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World Irina Antonova, grande dame of Russian cultural life, dies at 98

07:15  04 december  2020
07:15  04 december  2020 Source:   washingtonpost.com

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A longtime museum director dubbed the grande dame of the Russian art world has died at 98 , prompting an outpouring of grief and admiration for the woman who brought the Mona Lisa to Moscow and returned masterpieces hidden for decades from the Soviet public to her museum’s exhibition halls.

Irina Antonova , a charismatic art historian who presided over one of Russia ’s top art museums for She was 98 . The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts said that Antonova last week tested positive for Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said

Irina Antonova, an art historian who led the Pushkin Museum in Moscow for more than a half-century, defiantly exhibiting masterpieces once banned by the communist regime and defending the so-called trophy art looted by the Red Army from Nazi Germany, died Nov. 30 at a hospital in Moscow. She was 98.

a statue of Irina Antonova et al. standing in front of a building: Irina Antonova attends a celebration of the centennial of Moscow’s Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in 2012. © Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Irina Antonova attends a celebration of the centennial of Moscow’s Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in 2012.

The cause was acute cardiovascular failure complicated by the novel coronavirus, according to an announcement by her longtime professional home, formally the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts.

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MOSCOW -- Irina Antonova , a charismatic art historian who presided over one of Russia 's top art museums for more than half a century, has died at 98 . The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts said Antonova , its president, died in Moscow on Monday. It said Tuesday that Antonova last week tested

Irina Antonova , a renowned art historian who served as head of Moscow’s Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts for over 50 years, has died at 98 . Her efforts to promote foreign masterpieces in Russia despite pressure from the state’s cultural authorities brought Antonova acclaim worldwide.

Along with the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the Pushkin Museum, inaugurated in 1912 as the Alexander III Museum of Fine Arts, is one of the preeminent artistic institutions in Russia.

Ms. Antonova joined the Pushkin upon her university graduation in 1945, a month before the end of World War II. A specialist in the Italian Renaissance, she became director in 1961 and remained in that role until 2013, when she assumed the title of president. In the international press, she was often described as a grande dame of Russian cultural life.

“Communism fell, the Soviet Union collapsed, but some things in Moscow never change,” a New York Times reporter dryly observed in 2002. “At the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Irina A. Antonova is still the director.”

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Irina Antonova in 1980 © Pushkin Museum. Irina Alexandrovna Antonova , the president of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, died yesterday evening at the age of 98 , Marina Loshak, the museum’s director, told the Tass news agency.

Dubbed the grande dame of the Russian art world, Antonova was celebrated for bringing the Mona Lisa to Moscow and returning masterpieces long hidden by Soviet cultural officials to the Museum Leader Roger Mandle Dies – The prominent cultural leader has died at age 79 after a long illness.

She described the early years of her employment as “a terribly sad time,” when the entire museum was commandeered to display gifts to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Under Stalin, and for years after his death in 1953, officially sanctioned artwork emphasized a Socialist Realist glorification of the heroic proletariat. Many of the museum’s most prized holdings were consigned to storage.

“For so many years, we weren’t allowed to exhibit what we had in our collections,” Ms. Antonova told the German publication Der Spiegel in 2012. “Renoir, Matisse, Picasso and Cézanne were considered formalistic and bourgeois artists.”

Through unyielding resolve, Ms. Antonova helped resurrect the works of those artists and others, such as Marc Chagall and Wassily Kandinsky, who were regarded as traitors for having left the Soviet Union for the West.

In 1974, according to the Times, Ms. Antonova threatened to resign if she was not permitted to display the exuberantly colorful works of French painter Henri Matisse, a chief exponent of the artistic movement known as Fauvism.

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Irina Antonova was appointed Director of the Pushkin in 1961 by Nikita Khrushchev. She had joined the museum as a curator under Stalin at the end She was as eloquent in her stand as she was rigid. “The issue of trophy art is primarily one of an ethical nature,” she stated late in life . “It has to do with a

The grande dame of the Russian art scene, Irina Antonova , will be celebrating her 94th birthday on March 20, 2016. By the time of her retirement in 2013, Antonova had been the director of the renowned Pushkin Museum in Moscow for more than half a century. She had also become known as something

The same year, she arranged for Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to be transported to Moscow from the Louvre in Paris and displayed at the Pushkin behind bulletproof glass — one of several celebrated exchanges she orchestrated during the Cold War.

In collaboration with the Centre Pompidou, also in Paris, she mounted a groundbreaking exhibition, “Moscow-Paris,” in 1981, with works by Chagall and Kandinsky, among other Russian and French artists. Other Soviet museum administrators had balked at such an idea.

“The director of the State Tretyakov Gallery said, ‘Over my dead body,’ ” Ms. Antonova told the Los Angeles Times in 2003. “I said that we will put on this exhibition, and we won’t need a dead body.” When the show opened, she said, people “poured here to see their own artists, our own national art, which for decades they had been denied.”

Another category of artwork that spent decades in storage at the Pushkin and in other repositories — although for different reasons — were the thousands of works of art taken from Germany by the Soviet Army in the final days of World War II. For years, Soviet officials and museum administrators, Ms. Antonova among them, denied knowledge of their existence.

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In the 1990s, when the “trophy art” was revealed and eventually exhibited — prompting protests from the German government — Ms. Antonova steadfastly defended its place in Russia. The works were a form of reparations, she argued, for the innumerable works Germany had destroyed or stolen from the Soviet Union during the war.

“To be entirely clear, the issue of trophy art is primarily one of an ethical nature,” she told Der Spiegel. “It has to do with moral and not so much financial compensation for Russia. One cannot simply invade a country, destroy its museums and try to stamp out the roots of its culture, as the Germans did. This is a historic lesson for the entire world.”

A centerpiece of the disputed artwork was a trove of gold treasures from ancient Troy discovered by Heinrich Schliemann, an amateur German archaeologist, in the late 19th century. They were hidden at the Berlin Zoo at the end of World War II, discovered there by the Soviets, and eventually secreted away in repositories of the Pushkin. Ms. Antonova displayed the collection in 1996 in an exhibit that attracted international attention, and controversy.

If the Soviets had erred, she said, they had done so in not exhibiting the works earlier.

Irina Antonova, head of top Moscow art museum, dies at 98

  Irina Antonova, head of top Moscow art museum, dies at 98 MOSCOW (AP) — Irina Antonova, a charismatic art historian who presided over one of Russia's top art museums for more than half a century, has died at 98. The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts said Antonova, its president, died in Moscow on Monday. It said Tuesday that Antonova last week tested positive for coronavirus, which exacerbated her chronic heart ailments. Antonova began working at the Pushkin museum after her graduation in 1945, and in 1961 she became its director. She held the job until 2013, when she shifted into the ceremonial post of its president. The 52-year tenure made her the world's longest-serving director of a major art museum.

“It was one of the stupidities of that period,” she told the New York Times in 2002. “In 1945, after the war, everyone knew that some things came to the museum, but nobody was really working on them. It was stupid because we should have from the very first said that it belongs to Russia, because it was compensation for the enormous, unbelievable damage done to our country. Everything should have been put on display right away.”

Silvio Berlusconi, Irina Antonova, Vladimir Putin standing next to a person in a suit and tie: Ms. Antonova, center, receives a recognition from Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, left, at the Kremlin in 2004. © Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images Ms. Antonova, center, receives a recognition from Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, left, at the Kremlin in 2004.

Irina Alexandrovna Antonova was born in Moscow on March 20, 1922. Her father was a diplomat at the Soviet Embassy in Berlin, where the family resided from 1929 to 1933.

Ms. Antonova had recently finished her first year at university when Germany invaded Russia in 1941 and worked at an ammunition factory and as a nurse at a military hospital during the war.

“During my first operation, I had to hold a leg while the surgeon amputated it,” she told Der Spiegel. “Suddenly I was holding it in my hand. I was shocked.”

She studied art history at Moscow State University, graduating in 1945. The experience of working at the Pushkin, where the reproductions of her university textbooks were replaced by genuine works of art, exhilarated her.

According to several accounts, as a young museum employee, she helped unload or catalogue early deliveries of trophy art from Germany.

Despite the suffering that Russians endured under communism, Ms. Antonova told Der Spiegel in 2012 that “perhaps I’m going to disappoint you now, but I haven’t lost faith in socialism to this day. It’s obvious that Stalin was a tyrant. We chose the wrong path to socialism in the Soviet Union. But that doesn’t mean that the idea is worthless.”

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In the final period of her tenure of director at the Pushkin, she publicly called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to rebuild a state museum of Western art that was destroyed under Stalin and whose holdings had been split between the Pushkin and the Hermitage. The decision not to rebuild the museum, she argued, amounted to adherence to “a decree of Stalin.”

Her appeal, which the Hermitage opposed, sparked a contretemps that by some accounts contributed to her departure as director. She was 91 at the time.

Reflecting on her longevity at the museum, she liked to joke that she had one husband and one job her entire life. Survivors include a son, Boris, who according to the Art Newspaper was severely disabled.

Also reflecting on her longevity, she told Der Spiegel that “I serve art.”

“Politicians come and go,” she said, “but art is eternal.”

a painting of Irina Antonova sitting in a room: Ms. Antonova in Moscow in 2013. © Andrey Smirnov/AFP/Getty Images Ms. Antonova in Moscow in 2013.

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