Alexander Naumovich Ramm
Alexander Ramm Collection
The collection of Alexander Naumovich Ramm (1903--1987) reflects the personal tastes of the owner, who did not attempt to pursue academic consistency or completeness. Most experts and viewers are struck by the special air of intimacy surrounding the collection, based on Alexander Ramm’s own preferences. Most of the still-lifes depict flowers and most of the portraits are of women. The main features of his collection are lyricism, harmony, a sense of contemplation and a love of all forms of beauty.
Alexander Ramm was a leading Russian engineer and metallurgy expert. A professor of Leningrad Polytechnic Institute, he was born in Dnepropetrovsk to a family of enlightened merchants. Besides half a century spent studying and teaching engineering, Ramm published a hundred original works on the theory and practice of the blast-furnace process. He wrote four monographs and was awarded two patents for inventions. The scholar also translated many scientific articles into Russian from German and English. The results of his scientific researches made an important contribution to the development of Russian industry. His writings have been studied by generations of technologists, constructors and students of metallurgy.
Besides his professional career, Alexander Ramm had two other passions in life -- painting and collecting. He himself painted still-lifes, landscapes and views in and around Leningrad.
Alexander Ramm’s favourite hobby was collecting. The young engineer laid the start to his collection in 1933, when he moved to Leningrad to teach at the Polytechnic Institute. Many of his fellow colleagues were also avid collectors. Living in the vicinity of their place of work, they continued the hallowed traditions of collecting at the Polytechnic Institute.
Ramm put his collection together over the course of forty years. He exchanged works with other collectors, negotiated with the heirs of artists and collectors, scoured antique shops and associated with painters and draughtsmen. His most important acquisitions were made in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Alexander Ramm was particularly interested in works of painting and graphic art from the first three decades of the twentieth century -- a period of glittering achievement in the fine arts in Russia. He seized on every scrap of information he could find on the theme of his collection. He sought the works of his favourite artists and bought books on their oeuvres. Ramm’s library included such early-twentieth-century periodicals as [Apollo] and books published by Sikora. He was an expert on the life and work of each artist in his collection.
Alexander Ramm’s first acquisitions were paintings by Critical Realists -- a study by Vasily Polenov and canvases by Alexei Savrasov, Ivan Shishkin, Isaac Levitan, Mikhail Nesterov and Konstantin Makovsky. The works of the Wanderers were extremely popular among collectors in the 1940s.
The next series of acquisitions was the works of the members of the Union of Russian Artists. Ramm owned Vasily Pereplotchikov’s [Golden Autumn] (1904), Stanislaw Zukowski’s [At a Monastery Wall] (1908), Konstantin Korovin’s [Okhotino. On a Terrace. Portrait of the Actress Nadezhda Komarovskaya] (1919), Igor Grabar’s [Merchant’s Wives] (1908--35), Sergei Vinogradov’s [Moscow Courtyard] and Abram Arkhipov’s [Chapel]. The collector mostly preferred their portraits and landscapes. He was drawn to their sense of tranquillity, evoking a sense of affability and spiritual well-being. Such works best corresponded to the cosy atmosphere of Ramm’s own family.
Vasily Pereplotchikov’s [Golden Autumn] is stylistically similar to the works of the French Pointillists, who inspired many Russian artists at the turn of the century. The painter alternates yellow, green and red, creating an optical mixture of colours. The trees, grass and shrubs are painted in small and light brushstrokes, evoking the effect of pulsation. The sky is smoothly painted.
Many collectors from Leningrad sought the works of the masters of the World of Art, helping to preserve their heritage for posterity. Alexander Ramm owned more than forty works by members of the World of Art, including paintings by Alexander Benois, Léon Bakst, Valentin Serov, Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva and Osip Braz. The second generation of the World of Art -- Boris Kustodiev and Zinaida Serebryakova -- and such graduates of the Imperial Academy of Arts as Vasily Shukhayev, Alexander Yakovlev and Boris Grigoriev are also represented in the collection.
The collection of works by the masters of the World of Art began with a chance discovery, when Alexander Ramm came across Valentin Serov’s [Portrait of the Naryshkin Boy] (1910) in an antique shop on Nevsky Prospekt. Although the portrait was in a poor state, the restorers of the Russian Museum managed to return it to its former glory. Visitors to the Museum of Personal Collections can now enjoy the inquisitive look in the boy’s eyes and the unique childish grace captured by the artist.
Alexander Ramm also collected the works of Zinaida Serebryakova. The artist’s pastel drawings on ballet themes are cordial, charming and natural. Her tempera portrait of Russian art historian Sergei Ernst conveys the outer appearance of this energetic scholar and elegant young man.
A regular contributor to the World of Art exhibitions, Osip Braz is represented by [Golden Hill in Peterhof] (1908). Depicting a corner of the palace park, the colour scheme of green, gold and silvery-white tones creates a bright visual impression. The artist conveys the three-dimensionality of the marble statues, the patches of light on the gilt and the reflected sunlight in the crowns of the trees in a free painterly manner.
Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin painted [Paris. Luxembourg Gardens] (1908) during his early period, under the influence of the [fin-de-siècle] masters of France and Germany. The artist depicts one of the most attractive spots in Paris on a lazy afternoon. The painting lacks the bright colour contrasts of the artist’s later oeuvre. Preference is given to pastel tones. The light and free painting style conveys the sensation of a warm and clear summer’s day.
One of the leading artists of the Russian avant-garde, Natalia Goncharova painted [Still-Life on a Yellow Background] (1908) at the start of her Neo-Primitive period. Alexander Ramm regarded this vivid work as the jewel in the crown of his collection. He rejected many offers to exchange it for equally valuable paintings.
One of the finest works in the Ramm collection is Boris Kustodiev’s [After a Storm] (1921). A series of subjects from rural life -- a national fête, bathing and a fire -- unfold like a theatrical tableau. Painted in bright tones, these captivating scenes recall [lubok] prints.
Original in composition and format, Igor Grabar’s [Merchant’s Wives] (1908--35) is rich in colour and full of light. The artist spent more than a quarter of a century painting this work. The horizontal composition and the special rhythms evoke the sensation of movement past the row of shops. The contrast between the blue sea air and the bright colour accents contributes to the air of festivity. Such details as the saucers in the hands of the frozen women and the shop signboards plunge the viewer into the atmosphere of a provincial trading post. Employing devices of Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism, Grabar masterly conveys the beauty and poetry of everyday life.
One of the most interesting works in the Ramm collection is Mstislav Dobuzhinsky’s drawing [Vilno] (1910). A painter, graphic artist and member of the World of Art from 1901 onwards, Dobuzhinsky was also famous for his theatrical designs and book illustrations. The city was one of the main themes in his oeuvre. The elegant and refined drawing and expressive lines in [Vilno] are typical of the artist, who also produced many famous views of St Petersburg.
Boris Grigoriev painted in an extremely original style. The works of this talented artist are rarely encountered in Russia, making such canvases as [Parisian Types] (1910s) all the more valuable. This small work was created as a triptych. The general composition was divided into three sections with the help of three open doors. Each door leads into a room, in which one individual stands out from all the others. These three images are equally expressive, even though we do not even see the face of one. The distinguishing features of this work are the virtuoso lines and theatrical composition.
The monographic section of Alexander Ramm’s collection is devoted to three leading Soviet artists -- Robert Falk, Nathan Altman and Vladimir Lebedev. Two of these masters enjoyed similar fates. Falk and Altman both spent time abroad and did not always find favour with state museums. Such artists relied heavily on people like Alexander Ramm, who understood and appraised their innovative experiments. Falk was a personal friend of the collector and often stayed at his apartment when he visited Leningrad.
Robert Falk’s oeuvre is largely represented in the collection by works from the artist’s French period -- two landscapes and three urbanscapes conveying the charm of Paris. The still-life [Peppers] (1930s) was also painted in France. The objects seem to live and breathe of their own accord. The fiery peppers are depicted on a background of silvery-grey, overflowing with a host of hues ranging from green to lilac. The bold and heavy textural painting contributes to the expressive three-dimensionality of the forms.
The works of Nathan Altman enjoy pride of place in the Ramm collection. The artist displayed his subtle disposition and high professionalism in such diverse genres as landscapes, still-lifes, theatrical designs and book illustrations. Altman is represented in the Ramm collection by both graphic art and painting -- mostly works from his French period. The light tones and striking composition of [Self-Portrait with a Coloured Scarf] (1928--35) made it one of the collector’s favourite pictures.
A leading illustrator of children’s books, Vladimir Lebedev and his works enjoyed a special place in Alexander Ramm’s heart. The collector acquired works directly from the artist’s studio. Lebedev employs the technique of tonal flows in [Guitarist] (1926). The round and rectangular forms echo one another, bringing out the face of the woman and concentrating the viewer’s attention on the musician’s inner world.
In contrast to the image of the guitarist, Lebedev merges a virtually incorporeal face with the general background in [Girl in Green] (1935). The combination of dark eyes and pale face, the burning lips and the bright patches of the beret and jacket add a sense of materiality to the image. The portrait of the girl stands out on the washed space of the background. The distinguishing features of this particular work are the colour contrasts and the artist’s unique style of painting.
Alexander Ramm also owned works by individual Russian and Soviet masters of the 1920s and 1930s -- Abram Manevich, Alexander Gluskin, Antonina Anushina and Tatyana Bruni. Although these masters never aligned themselves to any of the aforementioned groups, the themes of their works correspond to the general spirit and direction of the Ramm collection.
Alexander Ramm was a typical collector of the mid to late twentieth century. It is impossible to imagine the life of the modern museum without the services and donations of such remarkable men and women.