André-MarcDelocque-Fourcaud, in the Matisse room at the Fondation Louis Vuitton.
André-Marc Delocque-Fourcaud’s dream comes true: bringing together the masterpieces collected by his grandfather, Sergei Shchukin, in a single exhibition, in Paris. Poetic justice for this little-known champion of modern art.
An exhibition like this comes along once every hundred years. Curated by Anne Baldassari, former director of the Musée Picasso, it presents Monets, Cézannes, Gauguins, Matisses and Picassos by the dozen, and spotlights one man, Sergei Shchukin, who was one of the first to believe in these artists and to exhibit them at the turn of the 20th century in his Moscow palace. The misfortunes of Soviet history erased memories of this patron of the avant-garde. The display of iconic works from Shchukin’s collection at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris rectifies this neglect and crowns five years of work by those who initiated the project, the historian Natalia Semenova and André-Marc Delocque-Fourcaud.
Where did your grandfather’s fortune come from?
From his father, who was a textile magnate. He had ten children, and although Sergei was not the eldest, he inherited the family business. Under the influence of his father and his brothers, all collectors, he developed a good eye. He began by buying landscapes by the Northern schools, and in 1898 he acquired his first Monet from Durand-Ruel, which marked the start of his first collection focused on Impressionism.
Sergei Shchukin was successful in everything he did until a turning point in his life, in 1905. His youngest son died, his wife succumbed to illness in 1907 and another of his sons killed himself in 1910. Did his intense involvement with art grow out of these trials?
From this tragic period onward he certainly shifted from having a fashionable collection to one that was driven by passion and focused more on the avant-garde. Art gave new meaning to his life. The dates say it all: his wife died on January 2, 1907, and on January 19, he applied for a permit to add an extra floor to his mansion to turn it into a private museum. At the time, he already owned more than 80 works, including 13 Monets and 5 Degas. He met Matisse in 1906 and Picasso in 1908, and in the space of eight years he bought 38 pieces from the first and 50 from the secondworks that were among the best from their best period.
What most impresses you about him his radicalism or his predilection for sharing?
For me, the sharing was essential. He opened his mansion, the Trubetskoy Palace, to the public in 1908 and conducted tours himself. A music room was assigned to the Impressionists, a boudoir to Cézanne, a study to Picasso and there was a pink salon where everythinghangings, tapestries, armchair upholsteryharmonized with works by Matisse. His collection also reflected a lifestyle.
Modern art had two great families of pioneering collectors: the American Steins on the one hand and the Russian Shchukins on the other. Western history primarily credits the Steins. Why is this?
Because my grandfather’s collection was nationalized in 1918, then assigned to an institution in Moscow, named the State Museum of New Western Art. Stalin closed this museum in 1948. The works were divided between the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, but with the rejection of “bourgeois art,” it was forbidden to display them. When they reappeared on the walls of these museums after Stalin’s death, in the 1960s, my grandfather’s name had already been erased from history.
Do you feel that your family was dispossessed?
It was, but during the Soviet era the nationalization of the collection also ensured its conservation. My mother and I acted in this respect, not to retrieve the works but to legalize their transfer to the Russian state and restore Shchukin’s reputation. This exhibition brings together the iconic works of his collection for the first time under a single roof, as they used to be in the Trubetskoy Palacethanks to the Pushkin Museum and the Hermitage Museum, who agreed to loan 130 works between them. The fact that this is taking place in Paris is very moving. This is where my grandfather bought all of his masterpieces and where he died, in 1936, without ever seeing his paintings again.