The story of emergence and development of the collections of German graphic art in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts started in 1861 in the walls of the Moscow Public and Rumyantsev Museum, known simply as Rumyantsev Museum. It was the first museum of fine arts in Moscow, based on the collection of the Count Nikolay Petrovich Rumyantsev (1754-1826), which was transferred from St. Petersburg to Moscow on the order of the Emperor Alexander II. Rumyantsev’s collection consisted of manuscripts, books, ethnographic and archeological materials and a number of paintings. As there were no graphic works in this collection, Alexander II made a donation of 20170 prints, the duplicates of those from the Hermitage. This donation formed a base of the future Print Cabinet, which became a part of the Department of Fine Arts and Classical Antiquities of the Rumyantsev Museum.

The Emperor’s donation was so rich in topics, in variety of names and in quality of impressions, that already in 1862, when Rumyantsev Museum was opened for public, the Print Cabinet organized the first exhibition under the name The Great Masters of Engraving. The works by the greatest engravers and woodcutters were shown, including Albrecht Dürer, Lucas van Leyden, Hendrick Goltzius, Rembrandt van Rijn, Marcantonio Raimondi, Salvator Rosa, Jacques Callot, William Hogarth, Francesco Bartolozzi, Gérard Edelinck and many others. Among works exhibited there were many magnificent prints by Dürer. They are still among the best in the collections of the museum.

The opening of the Print Cabinet in Moscow was met with great enthusiasm, especially among the art historians, collectors and artists. It was situated on the second floor of the Pashkov House on the Vozdvizhenka Street and its collections included not only master prints but also photographs of sculptures, architectures and paintings, reproductions, books on art. In 1865, the Cabinet became accessible for the public. The reading room was opened for visitors who now had a possibility to study the prints in the files. During the 150 years of its existence, the reading room of the Print Cabinet was never closed. An important peculiarity of graphic art is the fact that prints and drawings cannot be long exposed, because paper and watercolours fade when exposed to the light. For that reason, the Print Cabinet has always been organizing temporary exhibitions. The reports of the Rumyantsev Museum in 1873–1875 state that the Print Cabinet hosted regular exhibitions on the history of printing.

During the first decades of its existence, the Print Cabinet did not have any financial means to enrich its collections, but it expanded thanks to private donations, gifts and last wills, and transfers of graphic works from other institutions. In the end of 1860s it received a collection of prints of engraved Polish portraits from the Wilna Museum of Antiquities and a collection of master prints of the Russian school from the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts.

One of the first private donations to the Print Cabinet was made by Konstantin Ryumin, the Ryazan merchant who came to live in Moscow. In 1866–1873 he travelled in Europe and put together a collection of Western European drawings including 2,500 sheets. His donation was at the origin of the collection of drawings in the Print Cabinet. During many years the graphic art collection of the Rumyantsev Museum was the only state collection in Moscow. Because of that, it received donations and gifts of many other collections including Russian and Oriental prints. In 1893, the brother of the painter Aleksandr Ivanov left to the Print Cabinet 500 drawings by Ivanov and Karl Briullov. In 1897, the Print Cabinet received a large collection of Russian prints and folk images amassed by Dmitry Rovinsky. Thanks to this donation, the Rumyantsev Museum collection of the Russian prints became the best in the country.

In the new century, new collections were bequeathed to the Museum. In 1901, S. V. Chelnokov donated to the Museum 52 prints of Dutch and old German artists from the Fyodor Buslayev’s collection. Many of these sheets have formerly been in the famous Mariette family collection.

In 1903, A. P. Klachkov bequeathed to the Museum around 500 drawings by Russian and Western European painters. And in 1914, the whole Nikolay Mosolov collection of prints and drawings, very rich, was left to the Museum. Nikolay Mosolov, a friend of the Museum and its honorary member, repeatedly donated art works from his collection: prints from etchings of the Dutch school, a collection of portraits from the Iconography by Anthony van Dyck, prints of modern European painters. The art works that he bequeathed to the Museum included a unique collection of Rembrandt’s prints. In 1916, the Sergey Kitaev’s collection of Oriental graphic art also became a part of the Print Cabinet. It included 600 Japanese scroll paintings, 2000 prints and 400 illustrated Japanese books and albums.

We name only the largest Moscow collections that joined the Rumyantsev Museum because single art works or small collections of art works were donated to the Museum all the time. Thanks to those collections, the Cabinet became a place of storage of the graphic art of all the origins, Russian, Oriental or Western European.

The collections of the Museum grew disproportionately, the German graphic art collections not increasing at the same pace as the others. It was because no collector in Moscow, and, indeed, in whole Russia, specialized in exclusively German graphic art. Only single works of German origin were donated to the Museum.

A special role was played by the collection gathered by Nikolay Basnin, a Moscow lawyer, an honorary member of the Rumyantsev Museum, coming from a family of collectors. Numbering more than 8,000 sheets – books, prints and drawings – it became a part of the Print Cabinet in 1918. There were many Western European prints of 15th–20th centuries, including a number of prints by Albrecht Dürer, his pupils and contemporaries, with many impressions of excellent quality. Thanks to the collectors’ stamps on the back of the prints we can follow the itinerary of many prints by Dürer till the moment they were bought by Nikolay Basnin. There were, for instance, many prints first acquired by other great collectors, such as Nikolay Mosolov and Pyotr Sevastyanov. Nikolay Basnin was always in contact with them: in late 19th – early 20th century, all the collectors of graphic art knew each other.

After the October Revolution, private collections were nationalized and went to the State Museum Fund which sent many of them to the Rumyantsev Museum. Collections assembled by the Princes Dolgoruky and Baryatinsky, Vyazemsky-Sheremetev and Mikhalkov, Aleksey Bobrinsky and Henri Brocard were added to the Print Cabinet, considerably enriching it.

The quick growth of the collections and the lack of space for the storage led in 1921 to a decree emanating from the People’s Commissariat for Education on the reorganization of the Rumyantsev Museum. Only the library stayed in the Pashkov House, taking the name of the State V. I. Lenin Library. All the collections of Western paintings, sculpture and applied art were transferred to the Alexander III Fine Arts Museum opened in Moscow in 1912. The Russian part of the collections was transferred to the Tretyakov Gallery. The Print Cabinet suddenly became an apple of discord: the library insisted to keep the Cabinet, while the staff of Cabinet and many Moscow art historians preferred to transfer it into the Museum of Fine Arts. Finally, in 1924 the Print Cabinet moved to the Museum of Fine Arts, but the collection of Russian graphic art was divided between the Tretyakov Gallery (receiving all the Russian drawings) and the Museum of Fine Arts (receiving the Russian prints). During the transfer of the collections the Print Cabinet was reorganized. The library was detached from the cabinet, becoming a base for the research library of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. Collections of photographs, reproductions and negatives were also detached from the Print Cabinet, becoming a Department of Reproductions of the Museum of Fine Arts. These changes had a lasting positive effect on the Print Cabinet, structuring its collections in a clear and well-defined way. The structure is still preserved nowadays.

In the Museum of Fine Arts, the Print Cabinet was located in the so-called ‘dark reserve’ (now it is the hall No. 7 in the main building of the Museum). It seemed huge in comparison with the old premises. The columns divided it into three naves; the windows on both sides faced the internal courts of the Museum. All the collection of graphic art was put into the central nave. Along the windows on the right there was a reading room for visitors, on the left stand the tables of the employees. Large-size bookcases divided the working space and the reading room from the main storage. Piers between the windows of the reading room were used for small exhibitions.

The transfer of the Print Cabinet from the Rumyantsev Museum into the Museum of Fine Arts played a major role in its history; it left a library to become a part of a young and quickly developing artistic museum. The life of the Print Cabinet was now closely linked with the activities of the Museum. Nevertheless, it kept its individuality. A part of a museum of Western art, the Print Cabinet nevertheless became a unique collection of graphic art, including the graphic art of all epochs and all origins. It was different from other departments of the Museum of Fine Arts and from other museums of the country, having a room for the visitors, whose number grew steadily during the years.

In 1920s–1930s the Print Cabinet, already located in the new museum, continued to develop thanks to new donations and gifts, transfers from the State Museum Fund, from the State Hermitage Museum (626 drawings in 1930) and the Historical Museum, including many works by German artists. It was during this time that the Museum started to buy graphic art works on a regular basis. In 1937 the Museum (rebaptized Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in 1937) bought a great number of important works, including prints by Schongauer.

1948 became a landmark in the formation of graphic collection. It was then that the Museum of Modern Western Art was closed down and its collections partitioned between the Pushkin Museum and the Hermitage. As a result, the Print Cabinet received more than 600 drawings and 4400 prints, mainly by the artists of the first half of 20th century, considerably increasing its stock of German graphic art.

In the same year 1948 died Pavel Ettinger, collector of Russian prints, bequeathing his huge collection to the Print Cabinet. In 1969 the former curator of the Cabinet, Aleksey Sidorov, donated to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts his important collection of Western European drawings and prints, mainly German. It was his gift to the Print Cabinet which received new premises in 1965 and opened its doors to the visitors again in 1966 in the so-called Verstovski House. During the next decades a number of important collections of graphic arts were bought, including the Georgy Lemmlein’s collection (more than 1,000 prints), Sergey Varshavsky’s collection (around 1,200 prints) and drawings by 20th-century artists bought from Ilya Ehrenburg. Different collections (one of them included only prints, another one only drawings) considerably enriched the Museum. In total, during last fifty years, the Print Cabinet acquired more than 50,000 graphic works.

In 1961, Irina Antonova became a new president of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. Her first move was to secure the attachment of the neighbouring Verstovski House to the Museum. The resettlement of the people from the house and restoration works took four years. The restorers managed to raise the house almost from ruins, remaking its characteristic features, both exterior and interior. The mansion, built in 1826–1828 following a design by the architect Fyodor Shestakov, one of those who rebuilt Moscow after the Fire of 1812, is a typical example of the Moscow Empire style. Until 1917, it was in private possession. During the First World War, it hosted a hospital. After the Revolution, a library for children was situated here. In 1930s it became a residential building, the premises being transformed into shared apartments.

The restorers managed to adapt the building for the use by the Print Cabinet without altering its structure. A two-storey mansion with a mansard, with a magnificent hall decorated by Empire style paintings, became a place not only for the storage of the Print Cabinet and restoration workshops but also for the exhibition premises and a large light reading room to show the graphic art. Before the closure of the exhibition halls in 1980, the Print Cabinet (name changed to Department of Graphic Art in 1866) organized many exhibitions of graphic art from its own collections, from private collections and from other museums.


Nowadays the Department of Graphic Art occupies two floors and the restoration workshops are in the mansard. The collections continue grow: they include currently more than 380,000 graphic works. All the collections are classified according to artistic schools (and countries) and then according to their chronology. Works by some artists are so numerous that there are monographic files or, sometimes, groups of files with the works of the same artist. The sheets of every artistic school are kept by a specialist on that school who is responsible not only for custody, but for research and popularization.

The collection of German graphic art includes more than 22,000 sheets from 15th to 20th century. It was largely systematized and examined by Aleksey Sidorov who was curator of the German graphic art and, from 1926 to 1938, head of the Print Cabinet. Even nowadays in the Department there are still files put together by Aleksey Sidorov and inventories in his handwriting. He was interested in a wide range of things, from Russian illustrations to Italian drawings. When he was a curator of German graphic art, he systematized almost all the German part of the collection, made many inventories in files, and published the first research catalog of the prints by Dürer preserved in the Print Cabinet. It was done for the 1928 exhibition, celebrating the 500th anniversary of Dürer’s death. When Sidorov left the Museum, his place was taken by Mikhail Fabrikant, a specialist in the German art of the 20th century. Next curator of German graphic art, E. L. Lyubimova, worked there till her death in 1963. She carried on Sidorov’s work, systematizing and arranging this part of the collections.

The collection of Albrecht Dürer’s prints in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts includes 215 prints made by him (from 121 woodcuts, 88 copperplate engravings, 2 drypoints and 4 etchings) and a great number of later copies and impressions. The quality of impressions is uneven but generally high. Especially interesting are ten rare trial impressions from woodcuts of the cycles The Life of the Virgin, Large Passion, Apocalypse. These are sheets of the same quality, well printed with all the lines and strokes preserved. Two of them are the first trial impressions made by Dürer and the rest come from the lifetime editions made in 1498 and 1511. Almost all the prints from the Large Passion in the Museum collections were published in 1511, with the exception of one trial and two late impressions. The cycle Life of the Virgin is represented by the first-rate rare impressions and later ones, dating from the middle of 16th century. Finally, almost all the impressions from the Small Passion cycle preserved in the collections of the Pushkin Museum were made in the late 16th – early 17th century. Impressions not making part of any series can date from the beginning, the middle and the end of 16th century.