This museum should be on every visitor's itinerary, even those who know or care little about Russian art, despite its hefty admission fee. It's as much an introduction to Russian history, attitudes, and vision as it is a display of artistic styles. Housing 32,000 artworks from the 12th to the 20th century, the museum is best viewed with a tour guide or by using the English-language audioguide to ensure that you get the most out of its collection before you drop from exhaustion. The most popular rooms are in the Benois Wing, where works by avante-garde artists Malevich and Kandinsky attract international crowds. Chronologically, they're at the end of the exhibit, so save time and energy if you want to see them. The Old Russian Wing deserves a good look, too, offering perspective on the evolution of Orthodox icon painting that helps you better appreciate any cathedrals you visit later. The rural scenes of Russian village life by Alexei Venetsianov and the soothing forestscapes of Ivan Shishkin, both on the ground floor, are often unfairly overlooked. Note the Art Nouveau paintings and sketches of set designs for Diaghilev's Ballet Russe. Take a few moments to appreciate the museum's exterior before you go in. It was built in the 1820s for the brother of Czar Alexander I and Czar Nicholas I, Grand Duke Mikhail. The museum owes many of its riches to private collections seized by the Soviets, or "volunteered" by wealthy collectors hoping to avoid persecution. Allow at least 2 hours, more if you have an enthusiastic guide.
- © Frommer's 2013
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- Very Highly Recommended 2010