To treat myself I went into the Russian North exhibition in an annexe of the State Historical Museum just off Red Square. I have twice been to the Russian North and both times fell in love with it. They showed a film of a group that is rescuing wooden churches in the North: I’d love to go again, as I did 4 years ago, but it involves rough camping, which I don’t like, and most of the woodwork is chainsaw stuff, and Russian rough scaffolding gives me vertigo.
No, Russia is not the place to go for superb woodwork. There is none of the oak panelling you find in Belgian or French churches and marquetry à l’italienne.There are no confessionals for woodcarvers to display their art. In Russia you may find some good carving in churches which survived the 1917 revolution, but then mostly heavily painted or gilded. A lot of the new stuff looks like it’s been done by computer.
In the north, in particular, the furniture is quite crude. You could not pass a joiner’s or cabinet maker’s exam with it. Clearly done with a limited set of tools. But it is tastefully decorated.
The real beauty is in the woodcarving: again painted, with a simple, but moving refinement.
The exhibition also has some marvellous metal and enamel working and decorative jewellery. but that’s for another time. It ia also very tastefully arranged - though a little more explanation in English would have been nice.