The Tretyakov Art Gallery eclipses all other art museums in Moscow. It was given to the city of Moscow in 1891, when Pavel M. Tretyakov donated his private gallery for public use. It is a comprehensive collection of Russian artwork.
Tretyakov is the home of many of Russia’s most famous paintings that we normally see on tourist merchandise. The museum is huge, and you should plan to spend a couple of hours (if you’re fast!) The museum is very patron friendly; many of the rooms have groups of cushioned seats for you to view the paintings from a comfortable distance and soak in the experience. Audio guides are available, but a great feature of this gallery is that they provide large laminated cards in each room, that give the history of the artist, and explain some of the context of the paintings. I really appreciated this, because I could read about specific paintings, and focus on the artists I really loved, namely the classicist Kramskoy, the impressionist Vrubel, and the artist (and critic of war) Vereshchagin. (Examples below.)
The patron, Tretyakov, had a passion for portraiture, and you will see it in the first several rooms. These rooms have unique and interesting depictions of Tsars and other interesting people from Russian history, as well as some portraits of unknowns.
What is especially important about this museum is the distinctively Russian feeling of the artwork, though there are some pieces by foreign artists. More than in Western museums, you will see Russian landmarks, famous cities of Russia, and events in Russian history depicted in these paintings. Themes of beauty, imperial wealth, war, serfdom, and peasantry are all on display, and explored through the various styles of the decades. There is plenty of Russian Romanticism on display, and a fair amount of Impressionism too.
Tretyakov was particularly interested in art regarding nature, and you will notice many pieces that reflect his personal tastes. This art reflects the diverse natural environment of Russia, with evergreen forests, marshlands, and snowscapes, seas and storms.
The lower level (level 1) also shows religious Russian art, some dating back to the 12th century. They also have gallery space for special exhibitions.
If you can only go to one museum on your stay in Moscow, it should be the Tretyakov. It has the quality, the space, and the elegance of the Hermitage, but with a distinctly Russian feel to the art.
For more on masterpieces held at the Tretyakov, see this list from MuseumStudiesAbroad.org!
The State Tretyakov Gallery/
Государственная Третьяковская Галерия
Лаврушинский пер., 10, Moscow
Open Thursday and Friday 10:00 am – 8:00 pm
All other days: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
200 rubles with student ID;
Photography 250 rubles, strictly enforced