The Museum of Fine Arts of Turkmenistan is one of the largest museums not only in Turkmenistan but also in the whole Central Asian region. Being a treasury of unique rarities of national and world art, the museum is also a major scientific center for the study and preservation of the masterpieces of Turkmen and foreign painting and sculpture, works of carpet weavers and jewelers, ceramists and graphic artists for future generations.
The Museum of Fine Arts of Turkmenistan traces its history back to the Ashgabat Museum of Local History. Thanks to the efforts of academician of art Andrey Karelin, who was invited from Leningrad in 1926, the art department of the local history museum was opened in 1927. For almost half a century, the local history museum was housed in a small two-storey building that was built specifically for this purpose in the center of Ashgabat. In 1902–1904, this building also accommodated the main public library. It was the venue for exhibitions, lectures and debates. Natural history lessons for schoolchildren were held in this building, as it remained predominantly a local history museum until 1925. It was only thanks to the start of Andrei Karelin’s work that the museum collection got ethnographic materials, works of painting, graphics, sculpture and applied art.
Andrey Karelin (1866–1928), who lived in Ashgabat for only three years, left an indelible mark on the art and culture of Turkmenistan. An exceptionally energetic and creative person, he designed and supervised the construction of the famous monument to Lenin on a pedestal with mosaic carpet ornaments, lectured at the museum, collaborated with publishing houses, designed book covers and created posters on the important topics of that time. Andrey Karelin was also the author of sketches for the first coat of arms of the Turkmen SSR.
And most importantly, he collected many works of folk art for the museum (carpets, jewelry, samples of the national women’s attire with embroidery, ceramics) and bequeathed to the museum his personal collection (about 300 paintings, engravings and sculptures, as well as sketches of decor and measurement drawings of Anau Mosque and Sultan Sanjar Mausoleum made by him).
Before starting work at the museum, Andrei Karelin did a lot of organizational work on selection of young specialists in Moscow and Leningrad. They formed the basis of the team of the newly created art department.
Over the year, Andrey Karelin managed to more than double the territory of the exposition department, collecting many valuable works of art. Due to the expansion of the collection of the art department of the museum of local history and its growing popularity among the population, the government of Turkmenistan decided to establish a stand-alone Museum of Fine Arts in 1938. In 1939, the art department of the local history museum became a stand-alone museum housed in the former building of the Baha’i mosque.
Turkmenistan’s first art studio was organized by Ruvim Mazel and Alexander Vladychuk in 1920. It became an art workshop for identification of talents, where “anyone with natural talents in the field of art could become a future artist.” About 300 young people joined this art workshop.
In the spirit of that time, this studio later received a high-sounding title of Shock School of the Arts of the East – the art center of Turkmenistan that opened the way for the Turkmen people to professional fine arts. The now famous luminaries and founders of Turkmen art such as Byashim Nurali, Olga Mizgireva, Sergey Beglyarov, Vasily Demidenkov, Nikolai Kostenko started at this studio.
Two reporting exhibitions organized in Moscow, participation of the studio students in painting of pavilion “Turkmenistan” at the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition in 1923 testify to the success of the school.
The works by these masters are carefully preserved in the museum funds. The works by these gifted painters are now being carefully studied and enjoyed by museum visitors.
In the thirties of the last century, the connection between national art and cultures of other peoples was further strengthened. Ivan Cherinko, Gennady Babikov, Yulia and Muzafar Daneshvar, Yevgenia Adamova and other outstanding masters who graduated from Russian art schools and were taught by famous painters came to Turkmenistan. The Turkmen land became the second home for many artists who came to work and stayed there for the rest of their lives. The colorful natural landscapes, the abundance of sunlight, the kindness and sincerity of people generated sincere affection for this ancient land and unwillingness to part with it.
The exhibition held in Ashgabat in 1934 on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of establishment of the Turkmen SSR became the largest event in the history of fine arts of the country. A team of well-known Moscow artists was invited to the exhibition, including Alexander Zhukov, Pavel Korolev, Nikolai Terpsikhorov, Martiros Saryan, Stepan Dudnik, Pavel Radimov, David Shterenberg. Together with their Turkmen colleagues, they visited all corners of Turkmenistan to collect materials for works that reflected the life of the young republic. This resulted in a series of wonderful works in various styles – from avant-garde to realism.
Together with Turkmen artists, visiting masters worked on a national theme, and in early 1935 participated in an exhibition timed to coincide with the opening of the All-Turkmen Congress of Soviets. It featured about 200 works (paintings, portraits and sketches).
The names of the above-mentioned masters are inextricably linked with Turkmenistan, and their works are part of the golden fund of the country’s national culture. The bonds that connected the Turkmen and Russian peoples many years ago do not lose their relevance nowadays. Exchanging ideas, experience, participating in joint restoration projects, the museum specialists of the two countries continue enriching the cultures of the two peoples.
The collection of the Museum of Fine Arts features many paintings by artists who worked in Turkmenistan in different years. Many paintings are included in the museum’s main exposition, while other works can be seen at thematic exhibitions that are constantly renewed.
When the Great Patriotic War started, the museum’s funds were replenished with the exhibits from the storehouses of Moscow and Leningrad.
In fact, in the summer of 1941, 280 paintings and tapestries were sent to Ashgabat for preservation. Later, all these exhibits were donated to the Turkmen people. Most of those paintings now form the basis of the permanent exhibition, and some are kept in the storerooms of the Museum of Fine Arts of Turkmenistan.