The first three rooms contain exhibits which give a general picture of the social history of Russia in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. There are portraits of the representatives of the main social classes of the Russian state, examples of costumes of that period, and also prints showing towns and villages.
A rare collection of drawings and water-colours illustrates the War of 1812. On the walls are portraits of those who fought in the war. Also of interest are sets of caricatures by I. Terebenev, I. Ivanov and A. Venetsianov, displayed in the glass cases.
Room 177 reflects the activities of the Decembrists. Only the most significant material is on show, that illustrating the more important stages of the Decembrist movement, which influenced the further development of the revolutionary ideas. V. Timm’s picture 14th December 1825 occupies the central place, being one of the few canvases on that subject painted in the nineteenth century.
In this room there is also a beautiful suite of furniture typical of that to be seen in the houses of the rich at the beginning of the century, silk wall panels, bronzes and porcelain.
Room 178 is a library decorated in the English style. The walnut furnishings were made in 1894 at the Meltser Furniture Factory in St Petersburg.
Rooms 179-182 are devoted to the flowering of the arts and sciences in Russia in the first half and middle of the nineteenth century. One’s attention is drawn to a bronze bust of Pushkin, cast from I. Vitali’s original in 1841-42. This stands out as one of the best sculpture portraits of Pushkin, both by its artistic mastery and by the expressiveness with which the sculptor conveys Pushkin’s poetic inspiration.
Portraits of Gogol, Saltykov-Shchedrin, A. Ostrovsky, Goncharov and I. Turgenev witness to the flowering of Russian literary criticism and theatre. Under the Portrait of Gogol, painted in the early 1840s by F. Muller, is displayed a copy of the prose poem Dead Souls, published in 1842, and also A. Agin’s delightful drawings for that work.
The Portrait of I. Turgenev is interesting in that it was drawn from life by the German artist K. Lessing during Turgenev’s stay at Baden spa in 1876.
Room 183 contains works typical of Russian folk art in the first half of the nineteenth century, with its highly distinctive qualities and centuries-old traditions. One’s attention is drawn to a collection of distaffs in a wide variety of shapes and patterns, made by unknown masters from various Russian provinces.
This period saw the flowering of many forms of folk art, in particular wood-carving, pottery, weaving, needlework, and decorative lacquer-work.
Room 184 is devoted to Russian architecture. Numerous drawings, prints, lithographs and paintings will acquaint the viewer with the work of the greatest architects of the first half of the nineteenth century, and with the architectural aspect of Russian towns and cities at that time.
Room 185 contains numerous exhibits which illustrate the great achievements of Russian applied art in the first half of the nineteenth century. These objects have the distinctive simplicity, organic harmony and clarity of line which are characteristic of Russian Classicism. An example of this style is provided by a suite of gilt furniture with upholstery produced at the St Petersburg Tapestry Workshop in 1806. The two tapestries representing Saturn and Aurora also belong to this suite and the ensemble adorned one of the rooms in the Winter Palace.
An important role in interior design was played by bronze: chandeliers, candelabra and vases. Those produced at the Imperial Glass Works were particularly renowned. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the famous architect Rossi became chief designer for that factory – the oldest in the country. The large cut-glass vases, the candelabra and standard lamps in this room were made from his drawings. Articles from the Imperial Glass- Works are notable for the rich effect of the faceted glass which harmonizes with the gilded bronze setting.
Some of the finest examples of Russian porcelain are displayed in the cases by the window. Besides articles produced by the Imperial Porcelain Factory there are items from the private factories of Gardner, Batenin, and others. In this room there are also examples of Russian ivory-carving and articles made of tortoise-shell and horn. Room 186. The paintings, prints and miniatures in this room illustrate the development of Russian artistic life in the first half of the nineteenth century. The distinguished Russian artist of the first half of the nineteenth century Briullov (1799-1852) is represented by the Portrait of Bobrinskaya. There are also works by his pupils Kapkov (18.16-1854) and Orlov (1812-1863), and by the talented serf artists Tropinin (1776-1857), Argunov (1771 – 1829) and Tulov. The work of the pupils of Venetsianov, the founder of realism in Russian art, is also well represented.
There are also interesting pictures of interiors in the- Winter Palace, a rare collection of which is preserved in the Hermitage.
In room 187 are exhibits illustrating the disintegration of the feudal system in Russia in the middle of the nineteenth century. Water-colours and lithographs by Timm (1810-1895) and Filippov (1830-1878) portray various episodes in the Crimean War of 1853- 56, the heroism of the soldiers defending Sevastopol.
The fine portraits by Gay (1831-1894), founder member of the Society for Circulating Art Exhibitions, are a reminder of the awakening of social consciousness in Russia, of the new ideas for the reform of the old system. These portraits depict Herzen and Nekrasov. There is also a portrait of Chernyshevsky (?) by Petrov (1833-1882).
The exhibition ends with a display of material relating to the peasant reform of 1861.