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Exhibition presents an exquisite selection of drawings of important buildings in St Petersburg
Jean-François Thomas de Thomon (1754–1813) Andrei N. Voronikhin (1759–1814), architect, Saint-Petersburg, Kazan Cathedral, long section, ca. 1800, pen and grey ink, black pencil, coloured render, 64,3 x 95,2 cm, Hdz. 7888,25 © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek/Dietmar Katz.

BERLIN.- Jean-François Thomas de Thomon (1760-1813) is one of the best-known French architects of neoclassicism. Blessed with drawing talent and endowed with the requisite ambition, he left turbulent revolutionary France for distant Russia and commenced a successful career in its capital city of St Petersburg, where he created his most celebrated works. Thomon possessed the social skills and ability to present himself required to gain access to the high aristocratic circles of Russia, including the court of the tsar, and thus to important and well-paid commissions: his most famous projects include the Big Stone Theatre (Bolshoi Theatre) and the design of the eastern tip of Vasilyevsky Island with the Stock Exchange. Founded in 1703, St Petersburg was being intensively developed and was meant both to be the ‘window to Europe’ and to look ‘European’ in its architectural design, which is why numerous foreign architects such as Domenico Trezzini, Andreas Schlueter, Charles Cameron, Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, Giacomo Quarenghi and many others were from the start active in the city on the Neva. At the time that Thomon was working in St Petersburg, the imperial neoclassical style, often referred to in art history as ‘Empire’ and in Russia as ‘Alexandrian Classicism’ (after the reigning emperor Alexander I), had come into vogue in Europe. Since Thomon had studied at the Académie royale d'architecture in Paris and spent several years in Italy studying classical models, he not only had the required qualifications as an architect but was also, with his skills and knowledge of neoclassicism, above all the right man in the right place at the right time. He was given a teaching position at the Academy of Arts in St Petersburg and soon made a name for himself not only as an architect but also as a brilliant draughtsman. It is very likely that the exhibited drawings by Thomon from the Kunstbibliothek’s collection were a presentation album assembled by the architect for a nobleman, possibly a member of the tsar’s family. It consists in a compilation of representative public buildings, including several military buildings (such as barracks, riding halls and officers’ houses), hospitals and the Kazan Cathedral. The exhibition is thus an exquisite selection of drawings of important buildings in St Petersburg, not only by Thomon himself but also by colleagues from his circle such as Giacomo Quarenghi (1744–1817), Andrei Voronikhin (1759–1814) and Luigi Rusca (1758-1822), which Thomon copied, miniaturised and collated. Since some of the plans and drawings by the original draughtsmen are no longer preserved, this album is valuable as an important source of architectural history as well as for its artistic quality.

In addition to Thomas de Thomon’s drawings, the exhibition shows works by his important rival, Giacomo Quarenghi, and a work by Philipp Elsson (1793–1867) that is reminiscent of Thomon’s design for the St Petersburg Stock Exchange.

The exhibition is on view at Tchoban Foundation. Museum of Architectural Drawing through 7 June 2020.

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