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by Alexei MONAKHOV, Head of Department, Museum-Panorama "Battle of Borodino"; Galina GERASIMOVA, senior researcher of the same department
One of Moscow's popular sites, which attracts both residents and tourists in considerable numbers all year round, is located on the Kutuzovsky Prospect - one of Moscow's main avenues. What the French called the "Bataille de la Moskova"- the Battle of Borodino - is commemorated by a collection of works of the prominent painter of battle-pieces, Franz Roubaud (1856 - 1928) and his central piece - the Borodino Panorama.
The idea of building the grandiose memorial dates back to the 100th anniversary of Russia's victory in the Patriotic War of 1812 and belonged to members of what was called the Imperial Russian War-Historical Society. Two of them- Lieutenant-General Boris Kolyubakin of the General Staff and Colonel Vladimir Afanasyev, proposed the idea to the painter Franz Roubaud who took a keen interest in Russia's past and whose panoramas "Conquest of Caucasus" (1890) and "Defense of Sebastopol" (1904) had already won due recognition in Europe.
It should be noted at this point that a historically authentic painting can only be the "fruit" of common efforts of the artist and scholars. And that's the way the Borodino' panorama was born: Franz Roubaud constantly consulted Lieutenant-General Kolyubakin who made the decision on its "subject scene" and kept watching how his "concept" was being translated into reality. And after nearly two years of preparations the painting of 1,725 m2 was completed in a surprisingly short span of time - in 11 months only (the painter was joined by five assistants). The building of the museum was built (also in very short time) at the Chistye Prudy (Clear Ponds) district of Moscow according to a design of army engineer Pavel Vorontsov-Velyaminov who acted on the advice of Franz Roubaud.
The opening ceremony took place in the royal presence on August 29, 1912. "Explanations" of the painting were provided to His Royal Highness and members of his family by Roubaud and Kolyubakin. The panorama was administered by a department of the General Staff and its administration included a manager, an army engineer-inspector, a lecturer, two cashiers, two door-keepers and two yardkeepers. A total of 143 visitors' tickets were sold by December 1917, and some of the visitors were allowed free entry. The Chief Administrator conducted the excursions and provided the necessary explanations and visitors could purchase guides with the history of the Battle of Borodino albums and postcards with Roubaud's reproductions and descriptions of his main work.
But the "fruits" of the high rate of construction of the museum began to manifest themselves already in 1913. That same year and then in 1915 the building went under repairs (without stopping admission) although maintenance funds were sharply reduced in the conditions of World War I which began in 1914 and some of the museum staff were called into the army. On December 24, 1917 Commander of the Moscow Army District ordered
that painter V. Seletsky be put in charge of the Borodino Panorama. And it was dismantled at the beginning of 1918. The giant canvas was rolled up and was preserved in that condition for the next 30 years at the cost of appreciable damage to the masterpiece.
On September 29, 1948, the USSR Council of Ministers passed a decision on the restoration of Roubaud's creation. The restoration proceeded in two stages with an interval (technical and artistic) and was completed in the autumn of 1962.
The team of restorers was headed by the painters Pavel Korin* and Yevgeny Kudryavtsev. The new building for the museum was to be located on the site of the former Moscow village of Fili, near the famous "Kutuzov izba" (peasant hut). It was there that Field Marshal Kutuzov, who was in charge of the Russian army, took his decision to abandon "The Primatial Capital" to the enemy at a Military Council on September 1 (13) of 1812 (on the 14th of September Napoleon entered the Kremlin).
And the fate of this historical painting was also far from easy. A Moscow fire in the summer of 1967 did to it appreciable damage. Its "revival" was accomplished by a team of painters of the Studio of Army Painters named after Mikhail Grekov. Today the historic work of national art is in the care of experts of the All-Russia Center of Scientific Restorations of Works of Art named after Acad. Igor Grabar.
The key "components" of the present permanent exposition created in 1996 are - the Patriotic War of 1812- the central event of the epoch of Napoleonic Wars; its culmination point - the Battle of Borodino. According to this concept the events illustrated in the panorama are organically intertwined with several interconnected historical-artistic "studies in Russian history". The introductory one for example speaks of the participation of the Russian Empire in the anti-French coalitions of 1805 - 1807. At that time the main element of the Russian strategy was decisive (general) battle. That is why we focused special attention of the major battles of the time: at Austerlitz (now Slavkov, Czechia), in 1807 at Preisich-Ailau and Friedland (now Bagrationovsk and Pravdinsk of the Kaliningrad Region) and also the Treaty of Tilsit (1807) - the "diplomatic bridge" between the wars of 1807 and 1812. Its contradictory assessment by the contemporaries is reflected in the European political cartoons of that time.
In the exhibition hall dedicated to the initial stage of the war the accent is on the organization, armament, uniforms and equipment of Napoleon's Grande Armee and the army of the
* See: V. Nartsissov, "A Youth From Del Ghirlandaio's Fresco", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2003. - Ed.
Russian Emperor; rearguard battles (June-July 1812); the Battle of Smolensk; the appointment as the Commander-in-Chief of General Mikhail Kutuzov; preparations of the Russian armies to the main battle.
One of the sections of the exhibition is fully dedicated to the art of Franz Roubaud. All in all he produced some 200 easel paintings of battle scenes apart from a number of etudes, sketches and drawings. The follower of the school of realism, he was an excellent animal painter, landscape painter, and virtuoso of color.
Franz Roubaud was the sun of a French merchant who settled in Odessa. He spent in Germany most of his life, and although he became full Member of the Imperial Academy of Arts (St. Petersburg), he did not obtain Russian citizenship. A European by his way of life and mentality he as a painter was literally "embedded" in Russian soil, with all of his more or less significant works being connected with Russia.
In all probability that explains Roubaud's extraordinary approach to battle paintings. Their classical canons established by the middle of the 19th century called for the artist's attention to a historically authentic depiction of the "external side"of military events: the armaments, uniforms and equipment and battle orders and formations. As for the author of the "Borodino", he, as many Russian realists, focused on the concrete individual.
Dealing with this problem is impossible without the painter having a rich "store" of different artistic types. Franz Roubaud looked for them everywhere he went: in the drawing-rooms of St. Petersburg, bureaucratic offices and even at the court. His sharp eye captured the image and his artistic skill helped reproduce on canvas the most expressive details. Looking at his sketches, sometimes accentuated to a grotesque, we kind of "peer" into his "workshop". Using his "collections of images", artistic imagination and visual memory, Franz Roubaud was able to draw "from memory" large and dynamic compositions, plural compositions. In the words of his contemporaries he attained "the summit of artistry in the ability to view his paintings from angles and distance that were necessary for his panoramas".
And visitors come to us, above all, in order to see the main "creation" of the battle-painter.
And let us recall that the main part of any panorama is the canvas with the painting spread out around the observation area or platform. In front of the canvas, closer to the viewers, there is what we call a "ground plan" reproducing details of the site. And all of these things require special illumination. Today there is a total of 35 such "panoramas" in the world with three of them being in our country.
Incidentally, the idea, or concept, was first suggested by Englishman Robert Barker (1739 - 1806) who even patented his invention.
It should be pointed out that works of art belonging to this genre make it possible to demonstrate a whole succession, "chain" of combat episodes taking place at one and the same time on a large area, the whole battlefield from the frontline to the rear. And it was this perspective that was chosen by Franz Roubaud for his picture of the succession of events as was described by his chief military consultant General Kolyubakin: "It was almost noon... According to his plan, Napoleon, for his decisive strike, had to capture a section of the right bank of the Semyonovsky ravine and the village itself, and with this aim in view... Napoleon... brings into action the division of Frian... In order to divert the attention of our troops during Frian's attack, the great military genius sent masses of cavalry against our troops on the right bank - the 4th cavalry corps left of the village and the 1st cavalry corps on its right. And the masses of more than four cavalry divisions crossed the ravine and, ignoring our fire, rushed at our infantry and artillery who met the attack with staunch determination. Our cavalry rushed towards the French here and there and scuffles broke out all along the left bank with both sides demonstrating selfless courage."
The display of the last hall commemorates the events of the autumn of 1812: the council of war at Fili, the Moscow fire, the battle at Maloyaroslavets (now Kaluga Region)*, the armaments and uniforms of the Russian troops, the peasant militia and, finally, the retreat and ultimate rout of Napoleon's Grande Armee.
Today the Museum is engaged in manifold activities. Acting in conjunction with other big Moscow museums we have prepared an exhibition called "The Great Hour of Great Sacrifices..." marking the 190th anniversary of the Patriotic War of 1812. The dramatic conflict which shook the world generated a powerful response in Russian culture. The works of art commemorating the famous 15-hour battle between the French and the Russian armies on 26th August, 1812 include Lermontov's poem "Borodino", Leo Tolstoy's deathless epic "War and Peace" and Tchaikovsky's overture "The Year of 1812".
And quite a number of men of arts who were associated with the historic war drama reflected it in their works, some of which are now on display.
In 2002 we held an exhibition to mark the 90th anniversary of our museum. The display included some personal articles of Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov and other Russian generals-heroes of the war. One of the objects on the display was a medal commemorating Kutuzov - the only
* The Russian victory in the battle at Maloyaroslavets defeated enemy plans to reach Smolensk via Kaluga. Napoleon's army had to retreat along the Staraya (Old) Smolensk Road which had been devastated by the French on their first raid on Moscow. - Ed.
one such relic produced in prerevolutionary Russia (a total of only 40 such medals - 10 silver and 30 bronze ones - were produced at the St. Petersburg Mint in 1874 - 1875).
And it may be interesting to note that our Museum had been intended for displaying one single item, but several generations of our staff have produced a sizeable collection. The subject of our special pride is this country's biggest collection of the works of Franz Roubaud. And we were eagerly looking forward to "meetings" with works of art which had never been on display in this country before. Finally, in the autumn of 2003, there was an exhibition of drawings of Franz Roubaud from a collection of his granddaughter and of her own paintings which were brought to this country for the first time. This took place under a cultural exchange agreement between Moscow and the Ministry of Science, Research and Arts of Bavaria (Germany).
In 2003 we organized an exhibition to mark the 190th anniversary of the demise of Marshal Kutuzov. For nearly two centuries this legendary personality has occupied his worthy place in the pantheon of Russian military leaders and statesmen. And it is usually even more difficult to distinguish the real personality behind a historical monument. And we did our best to portray the Field Marshal as part and parcel of his time who always preserved his vivid personality.
Mikhail Kutuzov is a classical example of a high-born Russian nobleman of the 18th century-a warrior, diplomat, courtier and merchant. Formed in the reign of Peter the Great*, this type reached his summit at the time of Empress Catherine II**. Service for his Fatherland was part and parcel of the life of a nobleman. Kutuzov carried out his duty with honor, demonstrating the brilliant skill of a military leader and dramatic personal courage which cost him two wounds in the head. The authors of the aforesaid museum exposition did their best to portray this many-sided "historical character" - a politician, administrator, master of court diplomacy and "philosopher-landowner".
On May 14, 2004, we opened an exhibition "Prisoner of Europe". Together with our colleagues from the State Museum of History***, the State Museum of Ceramics and "The 18th century Country Estate of Kuskovo" we turned to one of the brightest sides of the romantic "halo" of Napoleon - his "eastern politics".
Napoleon's secretary Louis Bourrienne recalled in his memoirs Napoleon calling Europe "mole's hole" in which there have never been any great revolutions like in the East with its population of six hundred millions. This phrase is often mentioned as a proof of adventurist intentions of the
* See: Zh. Alferov, E. Tropp, "St. Petersburg-Russian 'Window into Science' ", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2003. - Ed.
** See: O. Omelchenko, "To the Benefit of Empire", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2004. -Ed.
*** See: V. Yegorov, "Treasury of National History", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2004. - Ed.
Emperor. And since this theme continues to attract scholars, the organizers of the Exhibition decided that their objective was not to show an Emperor of the West, but a failed ruler of the East. Many of his contemporaries regarded Napoleon as the architect of another great Roman Empire, spreading the benefits of civilization across the world. Sculptors often represented him as a hero of antiquity, like the famous Antoine Chaudet, one of whose statues is exhibited in our museum.
For a French monarch - a European "brought up" by the epoch of Enlightenment, Orient was not just a vast arena for challenging the West, but an object of scholarly studies and "testing ground" of the latest socio-political doctrines. During his campaign against Egypt all these integral parts of his "Eastern dream" blended into a single whole. Say, in 1798 - 1799 he, as the Commander-in-Chief tried "to carve his way" into British India; as a member of the French Academy of Sciences (Institute) he had in his army some 200 scholars, artists and writers; as a revolutionary he tried to improve the status of the peasants (fellahs) and denounced what was called the "Mamluk tyranny". One of the painters (V. Denon), who accompanied the Emperor and his army on their dramatic road to Egypt, alternated his battle-scenes with pictures of the local lore.
Soon, however, the "romance of the campaign" had to give way to stern military-political reality. In 1805 - 1807 the East turned for Napoleon into a major card in his political "pack of cards", Turkey and Persia became his allies in the wars against Russia. But his ultimate objective remained India - the focal point of his battle with Britain and the supreme meeting point of the two civilizations. For 15 years the great Emperor was trying to overcome the "gravitation" of Europe, but was unable to "escape" from its captivity...
The conduct of excursions, reading lectures and giving answers to numerous questions of the visitors is clearly impossible without constant research. Our Museum is conducting annual conferences on the subject of "Epoch of Napoleonic Wars. People, Events, Ideas" which attract more and more scholars. Their reports are published in a special collection and we also maintain contacts with the mass media. Our Academic Council includes not only members of our staff, but also prominent historians, and we also have a Public Council of Descendants of the participants of the Patriotic War of 1812.
We maintain active cooperation with our colleagues "at home and abroad". The Museum belongs to the World Association of Museums-Panoramas which was established with our active participation. Some time ago we provided materials for a "Dictionary of Panoramists", prepared collective "Essays on the History of the Panorama-Museum" and participated in the preparation of a fundamental work "The Patriotic War of 1812" (M, ROSSPEN, 2004).
We conduct courses for children of pre-school age, have organized a Culture University for schoolchildren and conduct "evenings of music and poetry". Every year on January 7 - the day of the publication of the Imperial Manifesto on the Russian victory over Napoleon-we organize a colorful show on the Museum grounds.
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