Sergei Shchukin was the most important Russian collector of early twentieth-century Western art, thanks to his vast wealth, eye for quality, and cutting-edge taste. He once said: “If a picture gives you a psychological shock, buy it. It’s a good one.” His collection, along with that of fellow modern art collector, Ivan Morozov, form the core of the collections at the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
After assuming control of the family cloth business in 1890, Shchukin made frequent trips from Moscow to Paris, where he regularly visited the Salons. An introduction to the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel led Shchukin to begin collecting paintings by Claude Monet, followed by works by Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh.
Shchukin attended the 1905 Salon d’Automne, where Henri Matisse’s Fauve paintings caught his attention. He met and befriended the artist and by 1908 had become Matisse’s most important patron. That same year Matisse brought him to the studio of Pablo Picasso, where Shchukin bought two paintings on the spot, one of which was Woman with a Fan (1908; State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg).
Shchukin’s tragic personal life—his teenage son, Sergei, committed suicide in 1905; his wife, Lidiya, died after a brief illness in 1907; and in 1908 both his brother, Ivan, and his youngest son, Grigori, took their own lives—led him to pursue his art collecting with fervor. He opened his residence, the Trubetskoy Palace, to art students and personally gave tours of his collection. The palace soon became a destination for young artists; it was there that the Bubnovy Valet (Jack of Diamonds), a seminal association of Russian avant-garde artists, was founded.
Between 1910 and 1914 Shchukin focused his attention on the work of André Derain, Matisse, and Picasso, acquiring Cubist pieces from the latter when, as Kahnweiler noted, “no one else was buying from [Picasso] anymore.” By the summer of 1914, Shchukin had amassed the largest collection of Picasso’s work in the world—fifty-one paintings—most of which he displayed together in his “Picasso Room” at the palace. Among these were several paintings closely linked to those in the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection, specifically Nude with Drapery (1907; State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg) and the one painting by Georges Braque that Shchukin owned, The Castle of La Roche-Guyon (1909; The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow). Life in Moscow became increasingly tense after the October Revolution of 1917, when the Bolshevik party overthrew the government; thus, a year later Shchukin emigrated to Germany. Within two months of his departure, his collection was nationalized by the government, and the Trubetskoy Palace became a museum. Today Shchukin’s pictures are divided between the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, and the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow.
For more information, see
Kean, Beverly Whitney. All the Empty Palaces: The Merchant Patrons of Modern Art in Pre-Revolutionary Russia. London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1983.
Kostenevich, Albert. “The Shchukin and Morozov Families.” In Morozov and Shchukin—The Russian Collectors: Monet to Picasso. Exh cat. Bonn: VG Bild-Kunst, 1993.
———. “Russian Clients of Ambroise Vollard.” In Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006.
Shchukin’s records related to his art collection are believed to have been destroyed during the Russian Revolution, however information can be pieced together from his correspondence and purchase records found in other archives, such as: Ambroise Vollard Archives, Bibliothèque et Archives des Musées Nationaux (original papers) and Musée d’Orsay, Paris (microfilm copies).