The museum’s Fine Arts Department consists of the following sections:
- Uzbek Avant-Garde of the 1920s-1930s
- 20th century Russian Avant-Garde
- Karakalpakstan Contemporary Art
- Karakalpak Folk Art
- Archaeology and Ancient Khorezm
Below are brief summaries of these three main periods, which serve as an introduction to more detailed information about individual artists on the right-hand side.
The Museum’s collection of Uzbek art comprises a vivid, comprehensive survey of the 1920s-1930s, covering a wide range of schools - from ‘realism’ (e.g. P. Benkov, Z. Kovalevskaya) to avant-garde (e.g. V. Ufimtsev, V. Lysenko). These schools were multinational, as most artists came to Uzbekistan from Russia.
Historically, the social and cultural development of Central Asia overall was significantly influenced by Islam, which forbids representational art. On the other hand, Uzbek art and culture in the 1920s was also shaped by its rich traditions of architectural, applied and decorative arts as well as the art of the miniature book, dating back to ancient times. The interweaving of these diverse cultures and traditions contributed greatly to the expressiveness and emotion reflected in the paintings of this period.
Artists such as Volkov and Karakhan are characteristic of the period: rejecting the old world and creating the new. The works of Koravay, Kashina, Benkov and Kovalevskaya concentrate on the Orient, conveying the hazy Eastern sun and the unhurried life of ancient cities. Nikolayev (Usto-Mumin) creates an imaginative blend of Orientalism, combining the techniques of Italian masters and Russian iconography; Tansykbaev - in the elegant simplicity of his pictures and resonant daubs of color - reflects impressionist and post-impressionist styles in his distinctive manner; while Ufimtsev came to Uzbekistan as a follower of futurism, influenced by David Burlyuk’s lectures.
In the years that followed, many artists were simply forgotten. Canvasses were hidden in studios, apartments and store-rooms of artists and their families until they were rediscovered by Savitsky in the 1960s. Many were lost forever. But the works that remain are remarkable for their superior artistry and the wide range of creative approaches.
It was during the 1960s that Savitsky adopted his distinctive approach to collecting art: to obtain, wherever possible, a comprehensive collection of the works of each artist he was interested in, thereby illustrating the artist’s artistic and intellectual development over time. He also applied the same principle to each section of the museum, noting that “… depicting the [artist’s] work in the most comprehensive way is our main motto and we strive to adhere to it….”
Many artistic movements and works during 1900-1930 remained unheard of or forgotten until Savitsky began collecting them en masse. Of particular interest is the art of the following decades, both officially and “unofficially” recognized and so-called “non-documented” art.
On the eve of the 20th century, both Russian and European art went through a period of upheaval, uncertainty and denial. Already in the 1890s, groups subverting the rules of academic subject matter had exhausted all possibilities and a new “modern” style had begun to emerge. Styles and trends were borne out of each other. Some changed direction, while others were irretrievably lost. The journal “World of Art” (1899) and art exhibitions organized by S. Diaghilev and A.Benois provided Russian audiences with the opportunity to familiarize themselves with new trends in foreign art and with Russian artists searching for a new style under the influence of Western European art. The influence of French art is evident in the delicacy and naturalness of color solutions, particularly in the works of Shevchenko and Falk. Shortly afterwards, both artists joined the so-called “Jack of Diamonds” group, which included I. Mashkov, A, Lentulov, P. Konchalovskiy, A. Morgunov and A. Кuprin. Members of this group also called themselves “Moscow Cézannists” because they used Cézanne’s graphic techniques tinged with neo-primitivism.
Subsequently, the 1917 Revolution provided new momentum to the search for creative forms. Art became propaganda promoting utopian ideals of a new society. Artists painted posters and designed decorations for mass celebrations and political campaigns (S. Nikritin, K. Redko) and created new fabrics, intеriors (V.Khodasevich) and book illustrations (S. Telingater, G. Echeistov, G, Zimin). These artistic groups and styles did not last long, however.
The April 1932 decree On Restructuring Literary and Artistic Organizations put an end to the post-revolutionary period of creative freedom and prescribed that “socialist realism” was the only appropriate style for Soviet Art. Any work not complying with the requirements of this decree was dismissed as “formalism”. Many artists were subjected to repression and relentless persecution because their work did not conform. Fortunately, Savitsky was able to find and bring to Nukus many works of artists who were unable to escape the terrible repression of this period―artists such as M. Sokolov, V. Komarovskiy (who was shot), and the “Amaravella” group. Moreover, Savitsky was also able to obtain the works of several artists who until the 1960s were no more than a blank space in the history of art. R. Mazel, P. Sokolov, A. Sofronova, E. Ermilova-Platova, K. Redko, A. Stavrovskiy, Y. Shukin, N. Tarasov, I. Shtange, R. Barto are just a few of the dozens of newly rediscovered names. Never one to pursue fame himself, Savitsky strove “… though late, to rehabilitate the real value of the creative work of a great number of artists.”
The Museum’s location in Nukus has played an important role in the development and preservation of Karakalpakstan’s fine arts and distinctive culture. It provides artists with the moral and material support and artistic education necessary for creative growth. Many Karakalpak artists and sculptors - among them J.Kuttymuratov, D.Toreniyazov, B.Serekeev, A.Utegenov, and E.Joldasov - were Savitsky’s students.
One of the first Karakalpak professional artists, K. Saipov, is a recognized master of still-life reflecting life in Karakalpakstan. Self-taught artist A.Utegenov’s still-lifes are distinguished by their easy and quick representation of nature. Contemporary Karakalpak sculpture is based on traditional wood-carving, very popular among Karakalpaks over the centuries. Sculptor D.Toreniyazov, influenced by local folklore, has produced many works using wood, as did Atabaev, whose doors, columns, musical instruments and masks depict festive events, while J. Kuttymuratov concentrates on female images.
The Museum’s collection comprises the best of Karakalpakstan’s artists and sculptors, giving an overall picture of the birth and development of fine arts in the region.
Karakalpak folk art was one of the Museum’s original raisons d’être in 1966. If Savitsky had not started collecting in the 1950s, his other collections - especially those of the Russian and Uzbek avant garde - would almost certainly not have materialized. In fact, it was his close relationship with the local authorities, strengthened by his persistent collection of Karakalpak folk art, that resulted in their turning a blind eye to his purchase of avant garde art which the Soviet authorities in Moscow had effectively outlawed.
The Karakalpak folk art collection contains approximately 70,000 items, including pile rugs, flat weaves, embroidery, appliqué work, printed and stitched leather, carved and inlaid wood, jewelry, and hand-made textiles.
Appliqué work was usually used in making shanash - long trapezium-shaped bags made of leather and used for keeping flour, cereals and millet. The artisans also used a black and white cloth for making bags. The ornament was geometrical or horn-shaped. Printed leather was used in the tebengi - the insulation plates preventing stirrups touching the horse’s body. They were printed or engraved and stamped. Carved and inlaid wood was widely used in yurt doors, in small trunks, and chests. Producing inlaid wood, the artisans used red cloth and bone. Bone was covered with geometrical engraving, while wood was painted in dark brown and dark colors.
The Museum also contains a yurt - the traditional movable dwelling of Karakalpaks made of wood, leather, wool, felt and reed. The yurt complements the Museum’s collection, allowing visitors to understand more fully traditional Karakalpak culture.
Khorezm is one of the oldest lands of the Indo-Iranian border regions of northern Central Asia, known from Persian, Chinese and Greek texts. It emerged from the junction of sedentary and nomadic peoples south of the Aral Sea and in the delta of the Amu-Darya River. This ancient kingdom occupied a vast territory including not only present-day northern Uzbekistan and Karakalpakstan, but also northern Turkmenistan and part of Southern Kazakhstan.
The Museum holds a number of outstanding Khorezm artifacts, including pots, coins, statues and ceramic pipes for a sewage system, which continued to exist until the early 1900s.