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The Mead holds more than 750 works of Russian art, including oil paintings, sculptures, drawings, collages, and prints, the majority of which date between 1900 and 1950. Works from the late nineteenth century and second half of the twentieth century round out the collection. The collection’s unique strength lies in its diversity—it comprises some 160 artists, including almost all of the participants in the World of Art, the Union of Youth, and other artist groups active in Russia at the turn of the century and during the early twentieth century.
At that time, many artists were at the beginnings or early peaks of their careers, but the collection also features works from their later creative periods. The representation of different stages of an artist’s life is of particular significance when we consider that most of the artists immigrated to the West after 1917. Consequently, they were inadequately known in their homeland and misunderstood abroad without the context of their Russian years. Thus, the Mead’s encyclopedic collection not only features singular masterworks of Russian art but also illuminates lesser-known and less-studied dimensions of key artists’ careers.
Highlights within the modernist period of the Russian collection include Natalia Goncharova’s Self-Portrait (about 1907); Boris Grigor’ev’s Old Man with a Goat (1920), from the series Rasseia; Ivan Kliun’s Suprematism (about 1916); Mikhail Larionov’s Landscape Sketch (1906); Liubov’ Popova’s Cubist Still Life (1914); Nikolai Rerikh’s Human Deeds (1914); Aleksandr Rodchenko’s Composition (about 1920); Valentin Serov’s Portrait of Princess Meshcherskaia (about 1905); and Flight into Egypt (1918), by Pavel Filonov, whose paintings are extremely rare outside of Russia.
Among the Mead’s more than 450 Russian works on paper are the complete War series by Goncharova and Olga Rozanova, as well as drawings by Iurii Annenkov, Alexandre Benois, Ivan Bilibin, Aleksandra Ekster, Elena Guro, Leon Pasternak, Kuz’ma Petrov-Vodkin, Zinaida Serebriakova, Konstantin Somov, and Ivan Puni. About thirty stage and costume designs by such important artists as Benois, Mstislav Dobuzhinskii, and Sergei Sudeikin form a significant subgroup within early-twentieth-century art. Sculptures by Alexander Archipenko, Jacques Lipchitz, and Naum Gabo—represented by the kinetic wire object Vertical Construction No. 2, The Waterfall (1965–66)—add to the material diversity of the collection.
Works of the nineteenth century include prints by Petr Boklevskii and drawings by Ilia Repin, Ivan Shishkin, Isaak Levitan, and Mikhail Nesterov. The roster of nonconformist artists includes Vil’iam Brui, Erik Bulatov, Ernst Neizvestnyi, Oskar Rabin, Mikhail Shemiakin, and Oleg Vassiliev. The collection also features some forty Russian panel and metal icons and crucifixes of the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries, as well as six pages from a nineteenth-century icon pattern book. In addition, the museum holds more than fifty decorative arts objects, including a plate marked with the cipher of Nicholas I from 1825.
Most of the artworks came from the collection of Thomas P. Whitney, Class of 1937, who gave them to the college in 2001. Whitney worked in American diplomatic services and as a correspondent for The Associated Press in Moscow in the 1940s and 1950s. From his collection and his life experience it appears that he aimed to establish a monument to Russian cultural and artistic life, the protagonists of which were suppressed and persecuted under the Soviet regime.