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an institution for scholarship and research in art. Art museums procure, exhibit, care for, study, restore, and popularize works of representational and decorative applied art. Their prototypes, which date from antiquity, included collections kept in the thermae of ancient Rome and in churches and monasteries of medieval Europe. Works of art were first collected systematically during the Renaissance. The oldest art museums, including the Prado in Madrid and the Louvre in Paris, were founded in the 16th century. The major museums of Europe took their final shape in the 19th century, when they became accessible to the general public.
In Russia the sacristies of churches, cathedrals, and monasteries were the depositories of works of art since earliest times, for example, the St. Sergius Trinity Monastery. The collection of the Armory in Moscow was begun in the 16th century. Works of art were collected in the 17th century by educated boyars such as V. V. Golitsyn, A. S. Matveev, and B. M. Khitrovo. In the early 18th century, Peter I supervised the organization of Russian museums; art collections were arranged together with exhibitions of the natural sciences, for example, in the Kunstkamera in St. Petersburg.
Extensive collections of painting and sculpture were accumulated in the 18th century in the palaces of the tsars in Petergof, Pavlovsk, and Gatchina and especially in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Collections were also maintained by eminent noblemen, such as the Stroganovs, Iusupovs, and Shuvalovs. Private collections were held by F. I. Prianishnikov in St. Petersburg, K. T. Soldatenkov, P. M. Tret’iakov and S. M. Tret’iakov, and I. S. Ostroukhov in Moscow, and B. I. Khanenko in Kiev; these collections were completely or partially open to the public. Art museums open to the general public date from the 19th century, including the Hermitage, the fine arts division of the Rumiantsev Museum in Moscow, the Tret’iakov Gallery, the Russian Museum, and the Radishchev Museum in Saratov. The Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow (now the A. S. Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts) opened in 1912. After the Great October Socialist Revolution, art museums increased in size significantly as a result of the nationalization of private collections, and many new art museums were opened.
The structure, organization, and activities of art museums are determined by the nature of each museum’s collection. In the USSR, art museums are classified as museums of Russian art (for example, the Tret’iakov Gallery and the Russian Museum), the national arts of Union republics (the Museum of Ukrainian Fine Arts in Kiev), foreign art (the Pushkin Museum), and folk art (the Museum of Folk Art in Moscow). Museums of folk art are found in Palekh Mstera and other cities. Several museums are devoted to the works of individual artists, such as the M. K. Ciurlionis Kaunas Art Museum and the S. T. Konnekov Museum of Sculpture in Smolensk. The Hermitage, one of the world’s largest museums of the fine arts, also has collections of objects of material culture, weapons, and clothing.
The most important scholarly work of art museums in the USSR consists in the study and organization of their collections. The results of this work are reflected in the museums’ publications, including catalogs of their complete holdings. Art museums organize seminars devoted to the results of scholarly research, important anniversaries, and exhibitions. They significantly increased the number of their exhibitions in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Exhibitions conducted in collaboration with other museums or as part of international cultural exchange programs are of great scholarly interest. Such exhibitions also help to strengthen friendly ties among peoples. Recent international exhibitions include “The Art of Mexico From Antiquity to the Present” (1960; from various Mexican museums; exhibited in the Pushkin Museum), “The Treasures of Tutankhamen’s Tomb” (1973; from the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo; exhibited in the Hermitage, the Pushkin Museum, and the Museum of Ukrainian Fine Arts in Kiev), “Russian Wood Carving From Antiquity to the Present” (1973; exhibited in Paris by the Ministry of Culture of the USSR), and “Russian Realism in the Second Half of the 19th Century” (1972–73; from the Tret’iakov Gallery and the Russian Museum; exhibited in the Federal Republic of Germany).
Art museums play an important role in aesthetic upbringing. For example, they help popularize art by organizing guided tours and lectures, as well as discussions at industrial enterprises. They also work with schoolchildren, organizing art clubs and studios and showing educational films on art. Museums bring the arts to the broad masses of workers. In 1975, for example, the Hermitage conducted more than 35,000 tours and presented more than 1,300 lectures.
The USSR has 147 art museums, including branches, and the number of visitors is constantly increasing. The four largest art museums in the USSR—the Tret’iakov Gallery, the Pushkin Museum, the Hermitage, and the Russian Museum—had more than 8 million visitors in 1975.
As a complex of specially equipped facilities and auxiliary research divisions, an art museum should include exhibition rooms, storage facilities, restoration laboratories, a library with a reading room, a photograph file, and a photography laboratory. Exhibitions are ordinarily organized chronologically and according to national schools of art. Paintings, sculptures, and works of applied art are frequently exhibited in the same rooms, as, for example, in the Hermitage, the National Museum in Prague, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In some museums exhibitions consist either partially (as in the Louvre) or entirely of works acquired as gifts or offered for temporary loan.
In a number of European countries art museums are housed in historical buildings, such as palaces or monasteries, which are adapted to suit the requirements of modern museum exhibits. In art museums constructed in the 1960’s and 1970’s, sculptures, primarily of the 19th and 20th centuries, are displayed in a natural setting, either in the open air or in spacious glass-enclosed lobbies and halls; one such structure is the Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg, Federal Republic of Germany. The color and finish of the walls and partitions, often in imitation of various materials, are also specially selected. Many art museums use artificial overhead lighting, additional lighting for individual works, and evening lighting for sculptures.
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