The Oleg Kushnirskiy Collection Catalog Presented in Kazan

The Oleg Kushnirskiy Collection Catalog Presented in Kazan

On April 25, the Museum of Kazan Icon in Kazan hosted a presentation of the catalog “Russian Icons from the Mid-17th to the Early 20th Century. The Oleg Kushnirskiy Collection,” released by the EKSMO Publishing House. The catalog, detailing Oleg Kushnirskiy’s collection of icons, was introduced by his son, Ilya Kushnirsky. Ilya, who serves as the director and producer of the collection, presented the work alongside its creators.

Elena Bryl, the director of the Museum of Kazan Icon, inaugurated the event. “It is symbolic that this book is being presented here at our museum,” she said in her opening remarks. “For the past five years, we have been dedicated to promoting the history of icon painting in Kazan and the surrounding region to locals and visitors,” she added. “We are delighted to participate in today’s event.”

The Oleg Kushnirskiy Collection Catalog Presented in Kazan

Opening speech by Elena Bryl, the director of the Museum of Kazan Icon.

During the presentation, Ilya Kushnirsky shared personal anecdotes about how his father was gathering the collection. “My father collected icons for almost twenty years, and I grew up watching this process—his trips to antique shops and exhibitions, discussions with friends. He found truly unique items. And all this time, he always talked about publishing a book,” said Ilya. He noted that his father had received several offers to sell the collection but never even considered such a possibility: “His dream was to preserve these icons and give the public an opportunity to see them.”

Ilya Kushnirskiy also spoke about how the collection’s website was launched in 2015, followed by the initiation of the book publication project. The cataloging of the collection, which took almost two years, was undertaken by Anna Ivannikova, a specialist in Russian iconography of the 18th–20th centuries, an expert of the Russian Ministry of Culture, and the curator of the collection of late Russian iconography at the State Hermitage Museum.

The Oleg Kushnirskiy Collection Catalog Presented in Kazan

Collection director, Ilya Kushnirskiy, at the presentation of the catalog.

Since the book’s release in April 2023, the catalog has been added to the collections of more than seventy public libraries across Russia,” Ilya Kushnirskiy reported. He also mentioned receiving numerous expressions of gratitude from university professors who now use the book as a teaching aid. “We have held several catalog presentations in various Russian cities, including Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Uglich, and Yekaterinburg, and have been warmly received everywhere. Additionally, we have agreements with world museums to organize exhibitions of the collection over the next two years,” he shared.

Anna Ivannikova, the author of the catalog and one of the book’s articles, remarked, “We are witnessing a fascinating moment in the life of a private collection when it is not only being formed but also receiving scholarly interpretation. Not every collector achieves this extremely important milestone. Many significant collections remain known only to a narrow circle of experts.” She further explained the origins of many icons in Oleg Kushnirskiy’s collection: “These icons come from the villages of Vladimir, centers in Imperial Russia that thrived towards the end of the 18th century. Typically, clients—often affluent merchants—sought out these villages when they desired traditional icons, rather than the secular ones painted by academy-trained artists that were prevalent in the capital at the time.  Thus, the villages of Vladimir became conduits of traditional culture.”

The Oleg Kushnirskiy Collection Catalog Presented in Kazan

The main author of the book, a specialist in late Russian icon painting Anna Ivannikova.

Dr. Alek D. Epstein, an Israeli historian, sociologist, and cultural theorist who authored an article on Oleg Kushnirskiy’s journey as a collector, sent a video message. In the video, he highlighted the collection’s coherence, stating, “Oleg Semenovich’s collection represents a distinct, specific segment of Russian icon painting, which is its primary strength.”

“In the history of 18th-19th century Russian art, there are such figures as Levitsky, Borovikovsky, Rokotov, Repin, Shishkin, and Levitan, whose names are known to everyone,” continued Dr. Epstein. “Yet, the names of icon painters from the same era remain largely unknown to us. There is a notion that the icon as a genre preceded secular painting and seems to have remained in the past. The significance of Oleg Kushnirskiy’s collection also lies in showing that in the 18th and 19th centuries, icons were created by serious, professional, profound artists, who were masters of their craft.”

In conclusion, Dr. Epstein expressed his hope that the collection would serve as a cultural bridge between Russia and the US and would be accessible to anyone interested in the intricate paths of Russian culture.

The Oleg Kushnirskiy Collection Catalog Presented in Kazan

Speech by Dr. Epstein’s editor, Alexander Tar.

Dr. Epstein’s editor, Alexander Tar, mentioned Oleg Kushnirskiy’s decision to form a collection from artworks found in the West, noting, “For him, it was a fundamental principle not to export Russia’s national treasures.” Continuing the thought on establishing connections between countries, Tar pointed out that the published book provides the only opportunity to see the collection in Russia at a time when inter-museum contacts have halted.

Oleg Kushnirskiy’s friend, collector Sergei Khodorkovskiy, spoke about the complexity of creating such a high-quality collection of Russian icons abroad. “Assembling a collection is only half the battle; attracting experts to study and describe requires a huge effort, and I want to thank him greatly for that. The catalog turned out to be high-quality and very detailed, it can serve as a guide for modern icon painters. Undoubtedly, the book will also interest the general public, as there are few publications about 18th-19th century icons.”

The presentation concluded with remarks from Oksana Lysenko, an art historian and senior research associate at the Museum of Kazan Icon. She emphasized the consistency of Oleg Semenovich’s work, noting, “He deliberately chose his focus: icons from specific periods and schools. From the very beginning, he envisioned publishing a book. The catalog we now see is the culmination of collaborative efforts between the collector and scholars, marking a significant contribution to the study of Russian icon painting in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

The Oleg Kushnirskiy Collection Catalog Presented in Kazan

Speaker Oksana Lysenko, PhD in Art History and Senior Researcher at the Kazan Icons Museum.

Oksana Lysenko also highlighted the critical role played by private collectors in the Soviet Union in preserving icons and recognizing their artistic value. “Today, private collectors play a significant role as well. Art collections must be put together and curated by connoisseurs and experts like Oleg Kushnirskiy. He has committed himself to promoting Russian art internationally, which I consider a mission of utmost importance.”