This article accompanies the fable
The current sparring between London and Moscow (I'm writing this is 2008) is like a fight between two casts in an old opera-house where the English think they are doing Andrew Lloyd-Webber and the Russians want to do something else, something Russian, but what? Tolstoy's War and Peace? Do we have to go back to before the October Revolution of 1917?
First, take note of an exhibition mounted in early 2008 at London's Royal Academy, titled "From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870-1925." A brouhaha developed over whether some of the paintings would be seized as Nazi war loot, but the bigger issue was: why did the English want to see the Matisses and Renoirs rather than the famous Russian paintings? Another snub! Ironic really, now that oil-rich Russians are making modern Russian art the hottest item in the contemporary London auction scene.
The masterpieces below are not in the exhibition but they afford clues to the great Russian operas and ballets from 100 years ago, before the Soviet era interrupted things, when the issue was (as it has always been) whether to look West, or into the Russian heartland, or East to the Orient. About Russia's future direction, it's all there in the paintings. Are you an optimist or a pessimist, an agnostic or a cynic? Study these four paintings then choose your favorite by clicking on it: