Irina Antonova -- the veteran curator of Moscow’s Pushkin Museum who strove to promote modern art in Russia -- has died at the age of 98 with the coronavirus, the museum’s press service said Tuesday.
The longtime director of one of the country’s biggest fine arts galleries helped Russians discover Picasso and Chagall, and battled to display the works of impressionists that were hidden away under Soviet leadership.
‘This is sad and unexpected,’ said Viktoria Makarova, director of research at the Pushkin Museum.
She told AFP that Antonova was recently discharged from hospital after spending a few days there.
A statement from the Pushkin Museum on Tuesday confirmed that Antonova, who suffered from cardiovascular disease, died on November 30 after being infected with the coronavirus.
‘Her whole life had been nothing other than serving the arts and her country,’ Makarova added.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday said President Vladimir Putin ‘valued her deep expert knowledge’ and conveyed his condolences.
Fluent in French, Italian and German, Antonova commanded respect among her colleagues in Russia and abroad.
Under her 52 years of leadership, the Pushkin Museum exhibited da Vinci’s Mona Lisa for the first time in the Soviet Union and in 1981 hosted an exhibition from the Paris Pompidou Centre featuring Malevich and Kandinsky.
She served as the museum’s director from 1961 until 2013.
Antonova stepped down following a campaign to bring together in Moscow a collection of 600 impressionist paintings, some of them from the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg -- an idea that was not well received in the former Russian capital.
From her retirement until her death, Antonova held the honorary title of museum president, created especially for her.
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