The Tretyakov Gallery

The Tretyakov Gallery is one of the world's largest collections of Russian art, and one of Moscow's cultural landmarks. Today the gallery's collections amount to over 180,000 exhibits, including paintings, drawings, sculpture, and items made from precious metal. The items date from the 11th to the 20th century.

Fascinating Facts

  • Founded by the two Tretyakov brothers, it was Pavel's idea to open a gallery, after his visit to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. He and his brother were successful businessmen and passionate art collectors – although neither of them ever painted artworks themselves.
  • While building up his collection, Pavel Tretyakov found himself rivalled by the Russian Tsar himself – Alexander III. The Tsar was also an avid collector, and sometimes found himself bidding against the Tretyakovs for the same works.
  • Despite being well-off, Pavel Tretyakov also knew how to economise. He would take cheap overnight trains in Europe, buying an upright seat in favour of a sleeper berth. The money he saved was used to buy further artworks.
  • The monument to Tretyakov only appeared here in the 1980s. Earlier, there had been a monument to Stalin – and before that, to Lenin.
  • During WW2, the entire collection was evacuated for safety to Novosibirsk.


The gallery's founder, Pavel Tretyakov, was a patron of the arts, and a moderately rich merchant – the co-owner of a linen factory in the town of Kostroma. He loved art from an early age, and used to visit the Moscow fleamarkets in search of rare items.

The museum's history dates back to 22nd May 1858 – the day that Tretyakov purchased a painting by Vassily Khudyakov, 'A clash with Finnish smugglers' – and another by Nikolai Schilder called 'Temptation'.

Over the following years, his collection grew. Mostly Tretyakov preferred to buy the works of living artists, from the painters themselves – partly to avoid being offered fakes. As a broad-minded man who believed that a certain amount of time was needed to understand new ideas, Tretyakov was not afraid of buying paintings on topics which the censors didn’t approve of. That assured the artists they could thus produce their own work freely, without fearing a drop in demand. At first the collection was housed at his family mansion – but when the collection grew too large to be shown there, he realised it was time to build special premises to display the works. The resulting buildings were united behind a building facade designed to a sketch by Vasnetsov. Today, this is one of Moscow's most readily recognisable buildings.

In 1892, the entire gallery and its collections were made over to the ownership of the City of Moscow. Later, in 1917, the Tretyakov Gallery and is exhibitions were nationalised as the property of the USSR.

Today the collection is housed in a number of buildings that include not only the museum itself, but also a scientific research centre and an extensive library.

What to see

  • The Vladimir Ikon of the Holy Mother of God – The most puzzling of all the ikons in the gallery's collections. It is displayed behind bullet-proof glass in the Church of St Nikolai in Tolmachax (the Tretyakov Church)
  • The Trinity, by Andrei Rublev. One of the most famous of Russian ikons.
  • 'The Appearance of Christ to the Multitude' by Alexander Ivanov. The gallery's largest work, measuring 7.5 x 5.4 metres. It took its painter 20 years to complete.
  • 'Ivan the Terrible And His Son Ivan' by Ilya Repin. This painting has twice been attacked by religious extremists – once in 1913, and again in 2018.
  • 'Dawn in A Pine Grovel' by Ivan Shishkin. The work of two artists – Ivan Shishkin painted the pine forest, while his colleague Konstantin Savitsky painted the young bears playing in the woods.
  • 'A Girl With Peaches' by Valentin Serov. This famous work is one of the gallery's most well-known exhibits.
  • The world-famous seascapes of the Crimean artist Ivan Aivazovsky.
  • ‘The Three Fabled Heroes' (Three bogatyrs). This humorous work by Viktor Vasnetsov is often cited as a classic of story illustration.
  • The extraordinary surrealist works of Mikhail Vrubel.
  • 'The Black Square' by Kazimir Malevich. This classic of Suprematist is on display at the adjacent New Tretyakov Gallery.

Guided Tour to The Tretyakov Gallery

You can book a tour in English on our website.

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