Pictures at an Exhibition

In the past couple of years I was contacted on several occasions by many different symphony orchestra managers, publishers from big and small publishing houses and educational institutions with questions about Hartmann’s pictures related to the Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”. Some wanted better quality copies of images for an overhead display accompanying concert performances of M. Ravel’s arrangement, some for the permission to publish pictures, others simply commenting on this project mostly disbelieving the relevance of this image to “Bydlo” from Mussorgsky’s suite. Well, from the very beginning of this project, almost four years ago, my aim was to try to spotlight bridging artistic endeavors of different mediums[1]. in this case the influence of Hartmann’s art on Mussorgsky’s music and perhaps exploring wider bridges between “Russian revival”[2] and “The Five”[3].

“Russian revival” and “The Five”

In 1873 at the age of thirty-nine, Viktor Alexandrovich Hartmann, Russian architect and painter, died from an aneurysm. He was at the forefront of the Russian Revival, friend of and inspiration to many contemporaries in the field of architecture, art and music. Shortly after his death, Vladimir Vasilievich Stasov[4], helped to arrange an exhibition of Hartmann’s work[5]. Here I would like to give you some examples of his work. By no means comprehensive (out of a catalog of approximately 400 exhibits), and mostly already published on other websites, it however seems only possible to find searching in Russian terms, so here it is for the benefit of the English searching population. If you have any additional information to add to this project page you are very welcome to participate.

Wrap and 22 poly-types by Viktor Hartmann, engraved by E. Gogenfeldenom, for a book: Grasshopper Musician – Polonskago; St.Pietersburg, in the printing hous of Gogenfeldena, 1863.[a] Also images of Candelabra, Lampada and Cup are from a recently published book: “The motives of Russian architecture”[b]

Mussorgsky poured out his feeling about his friend’s death in a letter to Stassov. who shared the Russian nationalist tendencies of Hartmann and Mussorgsky and had brought the two men together in the first place; My dear friend, what a terrible blow! “Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life” – and creatures like Hartmann must die! … This is how the wise usually console us blockheads, in such case: “He is no more, but what he has done lives and will live!” True – but how many men have the luck to be remembered? That is just another way of serving up our complacency (with a dash of onion, to bring out the tears). Away with such wisdom! When “he” has not lived in vain, but has created – one must be a rascal to revel in the thought that “he” can create no more. No, one cannot and must not be comforted, there can be and must be no consolation – it is a rotten mortality! If Nature is only coquetting with men, I shall have the honor of treating her like a coquette – that is, trusting her as little as possible, keeping all my sense about me, when she tries to cheat me into taking the sky for a fiddlestick – or ought one, rather like a brave soldier, to charge into the thick of life, have one’s filing, and go under? What does it all mean? In any case, the dull old earth is no coquette, but takes every “King of Nature” straight into her loathsome embrace, whoever he is – like and old worn-out hag, for anyone is good enough, since she has no choice.
There again – what a fool I am! Why be angry when you cannot change anything! Enough then – the rest is silence. …

Mussorgsky’s piano suite was not published until after his death, is dedicated to Stassov. Stassov, with whom Mussorgsky had discussed the suite as he composed it, explained in the first edition of the Pictures at an Exhibition: “The composer here portrays himself walking now right, now left, now as an idle person, now urged to go near a picture; at times his joyous appearance is dampened, he thinks in sadness of his dead friend. …”

Pictures at an Exhibition


Alegro guisto nel modod russico; senza allegrezza ma poco sostenuto.
Moderato comodo e con delicatezza.
Moderato non tanto, pesante.


Stassov tells us that Hartmann’s picture was “a drawing representing a little gnome awkwardly walking on deformed legs.” But elsewhere (as we are informed by Alfred Frankenstein[6] in his detailed investigation of this topic), Stassov says that Hartmann’s was a design for a carved wooden nutcracker apparently in the form of a gnome. There is the possibility that it could also be a design of a decorative child Christmas toy, dated 1869 and located at the Academy of Art. St. Petersburg.

Stasov comment: “A sketch depicting a little gnome, clumsily running with crooked legs.”

«Il vecchio castello»:

“A Road in Italy”
“Landscape of Périgueux”
“The Castle of Tschernomor” – “Ruslan and Ludmila” by Glinka
Stasov comment: “A medieval castle before which a troubadour sings a song.”

«Tuilleries» (Dispute d’enfants après jeux):

Mussorgsky’s subtitle: Les Tuileries: Dispute D’Enfants Après Jeux (The Tuileries Gardens: Children’s Quarrel After A Game). Hartmann’s picture of the Jardin des Tuileries near the Louvre in Paris (France) is now lost. Figures of children quarrelling and playing in the garden were likely added by the artist for scale. Stasov comment: “An avenue in the garden of the Tuileries, with a swarm of children and nurses.”


Sandomir’s Bydlo (le télégue). Sketch of military execution by hanging in front of the church (pencil sketch; Bialystok).

In a letter to Stassov, written in June, 1874, just before the “Pictures” were completed, the composer calls this movement “Sandomirzsko Bydlo”, i.e., “Sandomir’s Cattle”, and adds (le télégue), i.e., (wagon), but the wagon is “not inscribed, that is purely between us”.

Here is the translated letter:

Wednesday, an important day of June 1874.

I can not be with You.

My dear généralissime, Hartman boiling, boiling like “Boris” did, sounds and ideas floating in the air, feasting on it full, have barely any time to scratch it down on paper. Writing 4th № – good connections (in “promenade”). I want prompt and reliable work. My physiognomy in intermezzo’s visible.

To this moment I believe in success. Hugging You with understanding, that You blessing me – gave me Your blessing!

Titles are curious: “Promenade (in modo russico)”; №1. “Gnomus”; intermezzo (intermezzo not inscribed); №2. “Il vecchio castello” – intermezzo (also without inscription); №3. “Tuilleries (dispute d’enfants après jeux)” right in the forehead [right between the eyes]; №4. Sandomirzsko Bydlo (le télégue) (le télègue naturally (of course) not inscribed, that is purely between us).
I am working well.

I want to use Vityushkin’s Jews.

and here is the original letter in Russian:

Середа, какое то число Іюня 1874.

Не могу быть у Васъ.

Мой дорогой généralissime, Гартманъ кипитъ, какъ кипѣлъ “Борисъ”, звуки и мысль въ воздухѣ повисли, глотаю и объѣдаюсь, едва успѣваю царапать на бумагѣ. Пишу 4-й № – связки хороши (на “promenade”). Хочу скорѣе и надежнѣе сдѣлать. Моя физіономія въ интермедахъ видна.

До сихъ поръ считаю удачнымъ. Обнимаю Васъ и понимаю, что Вы меня благословляете – дайте же Ваше благословеніе!

Номинація курьозна: “Promenade (in modo russico)”; №1. “Gnomus”; intermezzo (intermezzo не надписано); №2. “Il vecchio castello” – intermezzo (тоже безъ надписи); №3 “Tuilleries (dispute d’enfants après jeux)” прямо въ лобъ; №4 Sandomirzsko bÿdlo (le télégue) (le télègue разумѣется, не надписано, а такъ между нами).

Какъ хорошо работается

Хочу применить Витюшкиныхъ жидковъ.

However, if you disagree, here is an example of commonly accepted imagery in this case by V. Van Gogh. According to A. Frankenstein[8] opinion Bydlo is a Polish word meaning “cattle”. Hartmann’s watercolor, which he had apparently executed during a trip through Poland, showed a typical peasant wagon with enormous wooden wheels, drawn by oxen. Again however, I believe that Mussorgsky has turned this into more of a social commentary on how Russians treated Poles in 1874 Czarist Russia. At a time this was a dangerous notion to express, hence the …

«Ballet of unhatched chicks»:

This exhibition included Hartmann’s costume sketch for children dancers in a ballet entitled Trilby[7]. One of the costume sketches showed a child with only arms, legs and head protruding through a large chicken shell.

Stasov comment: “Hartmann’s design for the décor of a picturesque scene in the ballet Trilby.”

«Samuel» Goldenberg und «Schmuÿle»:

Mussorgsky was inspired to compose this movement by two Hartmann pictures which had been presented to him by the artist. Mussorgsky loaned them to the Hartmann memorial exhibit.

Stasov comment: “Two Jews: Rich and Poor” (Russian: Два еврея: богатый и бедный). Stasov’s explanatory title elucidates the personal names used in Mussorgsky’s original manuscript. Published versions display various combinations, such as “Two Polish Jews, Rich and Poor (Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle)”. The movement is thought to be based on two separate extant portraits.

Limoges. «Le marché» (La grande nouvelle):

Hartmann’s picture done on the spot at Limoges, shows a group of market women in lively conversation by their pushcarts. Mussorgsky scribbled in the margin of his score and imaginary conversation between the women which he crossed out to make place for a second conversational sketch: “La grande nouvelle: Mr de Puissangeout vient de retrouver sa vache “La Figitive. Mais les bonnes dames de Limoges ne sont pas tout à fait d’accord sur ce sujet, parce que Mme de Remboursac s’est approprié[e] une belle denture en porcelaine, tandis que Mr de Panta-Pantaléon garde toujours son nez gênant-couleur pivouane.”“Great news! M. de Puissangeout has just recovered his cow, The Fugitive. But the good crones of Limoges are not entirely agreed about this, whereas M. be Panta-Pantaleon’s nose, which is in the way, remains the colour of a peony.”

«Catacombae» (Sepulcrum romanum); «Cum mortuis in lingua mortua»:

The drawing showed Hartmann himself with a fellow architect Kenel in the Paris catacombs and a guide holding lamp.

In the title Mussorgsky wrote – “NB: Латинский текст: Съ мертвыми на мертвом языкѣ.” “NB: A Latin text: ‘With the Dead in a Dead Language.’ and in the footnote: “Ладно бы, латинскій текстъ: творческій духъ умершаго Гартмана ведетъ меня къ черепамъ, взываетъ къ черепамъ, черепа тихо засвѣтились.” “Well may it be, Latin text: The creative spirit of the departed Hartmann leads me to the skulls, calls out to them, and the skulls begin to glow dimly from within.”

«The Hut on Chicken Legs» («Baba Yaga»)

A clock in the form of a hut of Baba-Yaga, the Russian witch who eats human bones ground into a paste with a mortar and pestle. Since Baba-Yaga also used her mortar to ride through the sky, Moussorgsky added the suggestion of her wild flight at the end of this number. Stasov comment: “Hartmann’s drawing depicted a clock in the form of Baba-Yaga’s hut on fowl’s legs. Mussorgsky added the witch’s flight in a mortar.”

«Great Gate» (in the capital Kіev)

Hartmann’a design was his entry into a competition for a gateway to be erected at Kiev to commemorate Czar Alexander II’s miraculous escape from assassination in St. Petersburg on April 4, 1866. Hartmann’s design, which inspired the climax and conclusion of Mussorgsky’s Suite, was to suggest a picturesque structure of great antiquity, its two central columns almost buried. The inscription on the central arch in old church Slavonic reads: “Blessed he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” (St. Petersburg Institute of Literature, Stassov Collection.)


Sources, Credits and Appendices

  • [a] – Original images @ Works of Gartman (Jap.) (Rus.) (Fr.) Thank you to “Kartinki s vystavki” Research for the permission and help.
  • [b] – Наталья Майорова “Мотивы русской архитектуры” (Rus.)
  • [1] – other projects on this topic was “M.K. Ciurlionis and his art”, I will republish all of this here soon. If you are interested please re-visit for updates soon.
  • [2] – The Russian Revival style is the generic term for a number of different movements within Russian architecture that arose in the second quarter of the 19th century. Read more here.
  • [3] – The group had the aim of producing a specifically Russian kind of art music, rather than one that imitated older European music or relied on European-style conservatory training. In a sense, they were a branch of the Romantic Nationalist movement in Russia, sharing similar artistic goals with the Abramtsevo Colony and Russian Revival. Read more here.
  • [4] – Vladimir Vasilievich Stasov was probably the most respected Russian critic during his lifetime. He graduated from the School of Jurisprudence in 1843, was admitted to the Imperial Academy of Arts in 1859, and was made honorary fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1900, together with his friend Leo Tolstoy. Read more here.
  • [5] – Catalog of posthumous exhibition of Hartmann’s work that was on display from February 8, 1874 here “Kartinki s vystavki” Research. (Jap.) (Rus.) (Fr.)
  • [6]Alfred Victor Frankenstein (October 5, 1906 – June 22, 1981) was an art and music critic, author and professional musician.
  • [7] – Trilby is a ballet in 2 acts and 3 scenes, with choreography by Marius Petipa and music by Yuli Gerber. Libretto by Marius Petipa, based on the 1822 novel Trilby, ou le lutin d’Argail by Charles Nodier, first presented by the Ballet of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre
  • [8] – from “Victor Hartmann and Modeste Mussorgsky”, by Alfred Frankenstein. Published in The Musical Quarterly, July, 1939

Share Your Thoughts

7 Thoughts
  • Nancy Hart says:

    Is there any way that I can get hold of prints of the pictures used in Pictures at an Exhibition? I am doing a lecture recital on this piece. Thanks.

  • I would like to acquire a set of good quality prints — those you have included here. I am concert manager for a chamber music series in Riverside, CA, and our January 2017 pianist has included “Pictures at an Exhibition” on his program. We have the capability of projecting Hartmann’s art on drop-down movie screens behind the pianist. Can you help me with this search?

  • I am interested in acquiring a high quality set of the prints you have pictured here. I am concert manager for a chamber music series in Riverside, CA, and our pianist has chosen “Pictures at an Exhibition” for part of his program in January 2017. We have the capability of projecting Hartmann’s art on drop-down movie screens behind the pianist. (No text; just the art.) Our audio/visual expert has also suggested a Powerpoint format, but if we can just start with a uniform set of prints he will be able to work with them. This is a rare opportunity; we will appreciate an early response. Dated: Nov. 10, 2016.

  • Wonderful resource! Mays students and I thank you!

  • Ose Schwab says:

    I discovered your site while hunting for further information about the story of Modest Mussorgsky and Viktor Hartmann. Gven your interest in “bridging artistic endeavors of different mediums”. in this case the influence of Hartmann’s art on Mussorgsky’s music… . I thought I would contact you to share about an intriguing project that is underway in Malden, Massachusetts USA. I am coordinating an event that will feature this piece of music and its backstory in a piano performance of the Pictures at an Exhibition itself, an exhibit of artworks inspired by the music, a theatrical presentation of the Hartmann-Mussorgsky story, and some multi-media projections during the concert and on the website. We will offer a recording of the concert as a podcast for individuals to listen to while viewing the gallery of created works submitted to this project.

    Called “Pictures at an Exhibition Reframed”, this project aims to reach a diverse collection of artists of various mediums, styles, and backgrounds. Malden itself is home to a wide range of foreign-born artists. The pianist herself is from the Republic of Georgia.

    For more information about this project, visit

    And if you have more information about this story between Hartmann and Mussorgsky, I would welcome it as we are asking high school drama students to retell aspects of this story in their own words. This project is indeed going to be a community affair… with hopes of creating community across artistic disciplines, cultures, and even time and place.

    Thank you for sharing this information. It is very helpful!!!

    Ose Schwab
    Coordinator of Pictures at an Exhibition Reframed

  • […] Ряд комментаторов связывает эту пьесу с карандашным наброском совсем на другой предмет, изображающим виселицу в Белостоке во время подавления Польского восстания. Вдумчиво вопрос рассмотрен здесь: Sergei V. Korschmin. Pictures at an Exhibition. […]

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