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The Tretyakov Gallery dates from 1856, when the young, wealthy Moscow merchant, Pavel Tretyakov, started collecting paintings. Soon it became clear that is was ti be a collection of Russian art.
Pavel Tretyakov acquired the very best from contemporary painters in Moscow and St. Peterburg. Such painters as Ivan Kramskoi and Ilya Repin, the critic Vladimir Stasov often took part in the selection of pictures. Thus. Tretyakov's collection turned into a veritable centre of Russia's artistic life. Tretyakov, who was the first to appreciate the new trends in Russian painting at the end of the 19th century, started acquiring the works of then young and still little-known artists. Later he began buy and commision portraits of Russian cultural figures, thich was highly appreciated by the Russian public.
The collector's brother, Sergei Tretyakov, was also a connoiseur of art who collected pictures no only by Russian, but also by French and Dutch painters. The Tretyakov brothers' mansion in Lavrushinsky Lane had to be expanded to accommodate the two collections. Subsequently rebuilding had to be indertaken five times. The facade ot the Gallery was added to the mansion in 1902 to a design by Victor Vasnetsov.
The collection of Pavel and Sergei Tretyakov was opened to the public in 1874 as a private museum and rapidly became very popular. In 1892 Pavel Tretyakov presented his collection, by that time already famous, to the city of Moscow, but remainded the Gallery's lifelong Curator.
In 1913 Igor Grabar, who then curated the Gallerym unsisted that the so-caled carpet hanging of pictures in the order of their acquiisition was replaced by the historical-choronological principle, deoting separate rooms to the works of major Russian painters. According to Grabar this work "converted a privately owned collection into a museum of European standarts".
In 1917 the collection numbering over 4000 items, was nationalised and transformed into a state museum. Gradually it was enlarged throught additions from private collections and other museums. At the same time Western European paintings were transferred to what is today the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.
The Gallery's collection in the soviet period increased more than tenfold. Today it is a depositury of some 47000 works of art, and the averae annual number of visitors is 1 700 000