Irina Aleksandrovna Antonova is a legendary figure in the Russian world of arts and culture. She is a fine art expert, a member of the Russian Academy of Arts. Antonova has been a director of Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow for half a century. The museum is one of the foremost institutions in Russia. It has over 650,000 works from all of the world and different epochs - from antiquity to the twentieth century. Antonova is a Honoured Artist of Russian Federation. Among her many awards and decorations are the State Prize of the Russian Federation and the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Her life is no less remarkable then her titles and honors.
Irina Antonova was born in 1922 in Moscow, but spent her childhood in Germany where her family moved in 1929. Soon after she came back to Moscow and became a student of Moscow University, the WWII started. Antonova not only studied at the University but also passed medical training and worked as a nurse in a hospital. After the war she obtained a doctoral degree from the Faculty of Philology in Moscow.
The entire life of Irina Aleksandrovna Antonova is connected with Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts where she started work right after the graduation and which she became a director of in 1961.
Her name and activity at the post of the director greatly affected the whole life of the museum and its status. Pushkin museum made an important contribution to the promotion of many important art movements, which influenced Russian culture and its development. Just a few examples: the Soviet ideology forbade avant-garde art, yet she arranged a Picasso exhibition in 1956. Antonova initiated the entire rearrangement of museum exhibition halls in 1970th. She insisted that the treasures of the Western art that museum had gained from the nationalized collections of Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov and stored in its reserve stock were finally displayed for the visitors. For long time before works of Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Gauguin had been censored as being formalistic and a part of Western bourgeois society.
In 1970-1980 the USSR's isolation from the West started to weaken and active steps to build the international relationship were taken. Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts was chosen a platform for cultural contacts with Western countries. It became especially popular for the exhibition of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1976 and during Moscow-Paris exhibition in 1981. This was the first time works of Kandinsky, Malevich and Chagall's had been shown in Russia.
In the course of thirty years Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts became the leading organizer of foreign exhibitions. All of the major world museums have shown their collections there.
Antonova was also instrumental in establishing Svyatoslav Richter's December nights, an international music festival that has been held in the museum since 1981.
Antonova witnessed as the entire collection of the Dresden Gallery arrived to the museum from Germany in 1945 and was removed from it ten years later. She opposed the return of the collection to Germany, claiming it was a just compensation for the damage inflicted on Russia's cultural heritage by the German invaders. The museum still holds Priam's Treasure, looted by the Red Army after the Battle of Berlin.
Anyone who knows Irina Antonova marks her fantastic energy, will and commitment. She has been honored with various titles and awards not only in Russia, but aboard. Irina Aleksandrovna was elected four times as vice-president of the International Museum Council and has been a member of international groups such as the BISO Group, with around forty directors of world museums.
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