On view are some of the world's greatest masterpieces of Russian art, spanning the 11th through the 20th centuries. The works include sacred icons, stunning portrait and landscape art, the famous Russian Realists' paintings that culminated in the Wanderers' Group, and splendid creations of Russian Symbolism, impressionism, and art nouveau.
In the mid-1800s, a successful young Moscow industrialist, Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov, was determined to amass a collection
of national art that would be worthy of a museum of fine arts for the entire country. In pursuit of this high-minded goal, he began to purchase paintings, drawings, and sculpture. He became one of the—if not the—era's most valued patrons of the arts. In 1892 he donated his collection to the Moscow city government, along with a small inheritance of other fine works collected by his brother Sergei. The holdings have been continually increased by subsequent state acquisitions, including the seizure of privately owned pieces after the Communist revolution.
The rich collection of works completed after 1850 pleases museumgoers the most, for it comprises a selection of pieces from each of the Russian masters, sometimes of their best works. Hanging in the gallery are paintings by Nikolai Ge (Peter the Great Interrogating the Tsarevich Alexei), Vasily Perov (Portrait of Fyodor Dostoyevsky), Vasily Polenov (Grandmother's Garden), Viktor Vasnetsov (After Prince Igor's Battle with the Polovtsy), and many others. Several canvases of the beloved Ivan Shishkin, with their depictions of Russian fields and forests—including Morning in the Pine Forest, of three bear cubs cavorting—fill one room. There are also several paintings by the equally popular Ilya Repin, including his most famous painting, The Volga Boatmen. Later works, from the end of the 19th century, include an entire room devoted to the Symbolist Mikhail Vrubel (The Princess Bride, Demon Seated); Nestorov's glowing Vision of the Youth Bartholomew, the boy who would become St. Sergius, founder of the monastery at Sergeyev-Posad; and the magical pieces by Valentin Serov (Girl with Peaches, Girl in Sunlight). You'll also see turn-of-the-20th-century paintings by Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (1874–1947), whose New York City home is a museum.
The first floor houses the icon collection, including the celebrated Holy Trinity painted by the late-14th- and early-15th-century master Andrei Rublyov. Also on display are some of the earliest icons to reach ancient Kievan Rus', such as the 12th-century Virgin of Vladimir, brought from Byzantium.
The second floor holds 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century paintings and sculpture and is where indefatigable Russian art lovers satisfy their aesthetic longings. A series of halls of 18th-century portraits, including particularly fine works by Dmitry Levitsky, acts as a time machine into the country's noble past. Other rooms are filled with works of the 19th century, embodying the burgeoning movements of romanticism and naturalism in such gems of landscape painting as Silvester Shchedrin's Aqueduct at Tivoli and Mikhail Lebedev's Path in Albano and In the Park. Other favorite pieces to look for are Karl Bryullov's The Last Day of Pompeii, Alexander Ivanov's Appearance of Christ to the People, and Orest Kiprensky's well-known Portrait of the Poet Alexander Pushkin.
When you leave the gallery, pause a moment to look back on the fanciful art nouveau building itself, which is quite compelling. Tretyakov's home still forms a part of the gallery. Keep in mind that the ticket office closes an hour before the museum closes. There are no English-language translations on the plaques here, but you can rent an audio guide or buy an English-language guidebook.