The collection of the Museum of Russian Icon was formed within only five years, yet it is quite considerable in terms of both the number and artistic value, and is distinguished by its own interesting and truly museum-like history. During the period of 2004–2011 the works were coming from private collections, were purchased from Russian and foreign art galleries and at antique shows. The major portion of the works of icon painting and the Russian applied arts came from large collections of Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
The most remarkable icons in terms of their artistic value and iconographic originality come from the collections of three Moscow artists – V.M. Momot, S.N. Vorobyev, and A.A. Kokorin, representatives of the legendary generation of the artists romanticists of 1960–1980’s who travelled a lot across remote corners of Russia. The tireless search for natural objects and models, for inspiration was inseparable from the desire to rescue the ancient monuments, abandoned and forgotten in dilapidated chapels and churches, from inevitable distinction. These collectors devoted their entire lives to gathering and careful preservation of the Russian icon, to mastering their restoration skills, and this finally turned them into real connoisseurs of the Russian icon painting. Among dozens of icons of the late XV – early XX centuries, purchased from these collectors, there are truly unique works of art as well as an entire set of Pskov monuments which made the museum collection one of the largest and most substantial depositaries of the ancient Pskov painting.
The acquisition in 2006–2007 of the collection, previously owned by the Saint Petersburg collector V.S. Samsonov, became an important milestone in the museum development. Samsonov intended to open a private museum of the Old Russian art in his native city. However, in spite of all the efforts, his dream never came true, and after his death the collection was scattered across the country gradually falling into decay and oblivion. Having discovered it stacked for temporary storage at one of the churches in the Moscow region, M.Y. Abramov decided to buy the monuments despite their poor preservation condition. The acquisition of this collection immortalized the memory of the great person and partially realized V.S. Samsonov’s idea of opening a museum. The real masterpiece of the collection is the signed icon of The Virgin Hodegetria by Simon Ushakov.
Owing to Saint Petersburg artist and collector Y.S. Ershov, who took numerous trips across the Russian North in 1960-70’s, the Museum of Russian Icon acquired the gem of its collection, the ancient icon of St. Nicholas of the XIV century, discovered in the chapel of village Kyalovanga on the Onega river in the Arkhangelsk region. In 2009 the collection was enriched with several icons previously owned by writer V.A. Soloukhin, whose personality became a symbol of an entire era thanks to his books, and first of all to “Black Panels (Notes of a Novice Collector)” (1969). Among the collectors who contributed greatly to the formation of the collection are M. Vaisman, A.D. Lipnitskiy, M.E. Elizavetin. A number of remarkable monuments came from the collections of O.A. Vasilyev, S.A. Khodorkovskiy, V.V. Petrov, Y.A. Afanasyev, F.A. Kopelevich, A. Golubkin, Y. Ignatyev, S. Bogoslovskiy, M. Shvarts, N. Fomichev.
An important aspect of its activity, that the Museum considers not only a special line in the formation of the collection but also its historic mission, is the return to Russia of the ancient icons and monuments of the Christian art, which were moved out of the country during the XX century – first in the time of the mass emigration, then during the Great Patriotic War, and then simply sold and exported to the Western countries illegally. This is the reason why a lot of the Museum’s paintings and works of applied arts were found and purchased abroad – from private collections and galleries, at antique shops and auctions. Many of the returned icons are exclusive monuments of the XVI–XIX centuries, completely unknown in Russia, which have emerged from oblivion and deserve to take their places in the history of the Old Russian art. Brought together they represent a wide layer of the national art and culture the better part of which was lost in the course of historic collisions of the past centuries.
There is a separate line in the acquisitions of the Museum, which in part stems from the professional occupation of the founder, M.Y. Abramov, in the sphere of the construction industry. It includes icons with some architecture in the background and those depicting Russian saints with the cloisters they founded. Such monuments, connected with the theme of pilgrimage to the holy places of Russia, are a form of valuable historic evidence which preserves the architectural and spiritual image of monasteries and convents.
It is worthy to mention that none of the parts of this considerable collection would be so carefully composed and complete without the ceaseless involvement in the acquisition process of the Museum Director, N.V. Zadorozhny. He has become not only the head but the true spirit of all the initiatives. Long-lasting and friendly relations with collectors, reliable intuition and the fine artistic flair of a collector, exceptional museum expertise, and, first of all, deep love and devotion to the Russian icon have become the essential conditions shaping the image of the Museum of Russian Icon.