Reading this excellent book about the life of Sergei Shchukin, a Russian textile magnate blessed with fabulous wealth and an extraordinary eye for a masterpiece, reminded me that selfless philanthropy can help unknown yet creative artists blossom. Without this turn of the century “impact investor,” the world may never have come to know the art of Matisse and Picasso.
Although Shchukin lived in pre-Communist Moscow, he frequently traveled to Paris, and this is where he met with and became a vital patron to Matisse and Picasso. At his Trubetskoy Palace in Moscow, you could find works by Picasso, Monet, Cezanne, Gaugin, and Van Gogh. As such, Shchukin singlehandedly bridged the gulf between Russian art and Western art.
According to Semenova, everything about art that was new and interesting was introduced to Moscow by Shchukin. He was a leader in the art world by all measures due to his uncanny foreknowledge of significant developments in that world. Sadly, one outcome he did not anticipate was the Russian Revolution and the subsequent success of Lenin, Stalin, and other Bolsheviks who took over Russia in 1917. They also confiscated all of Shchukin’s artwork. Communism not only stifles the human soul but also kills the creative mind.
After escaping the Bolsheviks, Shchukin and his family finally settled in rue Wilhelm in Paris. In June 2018, a plaque commemorating the life of this passionate patron of the arts was unveiled – depicting Matisse’s La Danse, a painting commissioned by Shchukin.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the lost treasures of Shchukin found a permanent home in the Hermitage Museum – he is most likely smiling from the heavens above that his lost masterpieces can now be shared with the entire world.