Jean-François Thomas de Thomon Drawings for Saint Petersburg

By Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Saint Petersburg, Horseguard’s Riding Hall, front and side elevations, ground plan (c. 1800) by Jean-François Thomas de Thomon, Giacomo Quarenghi (architect)Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The exhibition is a cooperation between the Tchoban Foundation and the Kunstbibliothek - Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and is made possible by loans from the Kunstbibliothek’s collection.

View of exhibition hall 1 (2020)Original Source: Tchoban Foundation, Kunstbibliothek, Isabel Robson

St Petersburg was founded in 1703 by Tsar Peter the Great as the ‘window to Europe’ and owes its architectural and urban aspect not least to well-known builders and urban planners from abroad, especially from Western Europe, who were active in the young Russian capital. The importance of these architects for the development of St Petersburg and their influence on Russian culture in general was so great that Russian scholars coined a special term for their works: rossika.

View of exhibition hall 1 (2020)Original Source: Tchoban Foundation, Kunstbibliothek, Isabel Robson

The exhibition affords an insight into the work of these artists in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a period of incipient political and social upheaval that historians call ‘the beginning of the long nineteenth century’ (Eric Hobsbawm) and the Sattelzeit (Reinhart Koselleck). It was an epoch that played a key role in political and social development and in forming the concepts of modernity.

Detail of exhibition hall 1 (2020)Original Source: Tchoban Foundation, Kunstbibliothek, Isabel Robson

In the history of architecture and building, the successor to the Baroque style was the Neo-Classical, which is often referred to in Europe as ‘Empire’ and in Russia as ‘Alexandrian Classicism’. The Russian Empire at this time was striving for supremacy in Europe and, like the British Empire and Napoleonic France, asserted an imperial claim that was also to find expression in architecture.

View "Recueil des plans et façades des principaux monumens construits à Saint Pétersbourg et dans les différentes provinces de l'Empire de Russie" (Petersburg 1806)Original Source: Tchoban Foundation, Kunstbibliothek, Isabel Robson

The French architect Jean-François Thomas de Thomon (1760–1813), from whom the majority of the drawings in the exhibition originate, struck a chord in St Petersburg with his neo-classical style.

View of exhibition hall 1 (2020)Original Source: Tchoban Foundation, Kunstbibliothek, Isabel Robson

Thomon, born in Paris with the civil name of Jean-François Thomas, began his studies at the Académie royale d’architecture in Paris in 1777, travelled through Italy for several years and, a staunch royalist, quit turbulent revolutionary France in 1790.

Saint Petersburg, Anichkov Palace, imperial offices with ground and first floor plans (1805) by Jean-François Thomas de Thomon, Giacomo Quarenghi (architect)Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

This drawing by Thomon shows a view and the ground and first floor plan of the Anitschkow Palace in St. Petersburg. The building still exists today.

View of exhibition hall 1 (2020)Original Source: Tchoban Foundation, Kunstbibliothek, Isabel Robson

His path led him first to Vienna and then, via Riga, to St. Petersburg, where, blessed with drawing talent and endowed with the necessary ambition, he created his most celebrated works. Possessing the requisite social skills and flair for presenting himself, he gained access to the high aristocratic circles of Russia, including the court of the tsar, and thus to important and well-paid commissions.

Saint Petersburg, Kazan Cathedral, elevation of main façade (1801) by Jean-François Thomas de Thomon, Andrej N. Voronichin (architect)Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

As early as 1800, the Petersburg Academy of Arts awarded him the title of academic for his outstanding drawing skills and works. He received a professorship at the Academy and drew plans for the Kazan Cathedral, which was under construction. His three drawings are part of a series of 34 large-format drawings that the Kunstbibliothek was able to acquire from a private collection in 1974.

Detail of exhibition hall 1 (2020)Original Source: Tchoban Foundation, Kunstbibliothek, Isabel Robson

Saint Petersburg, Stock Exchange, two sections (1804) by Jean-François Thomas de ThomonKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

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.

View of exhibition hall 2 (2020)Original Source: Tchoban Foundation, Kunstbibliothek, Isabel Robson

The drawings by Thomon exhibited here were probably a presentation album that the architect assembled for a noble client.

View of exhibition hall 2 (2020)Original Source: Tchoban Foundation, Kunstbibliothek, Isabel Robson

The album includes not only his own designs but also copies of important buildings by his colleagues, Giacomo Quarenghi (1744–1817), Luigi Rusca (1758-1822), Andrei N. Voronikhin (1759-1814) and Andrejan D. Sacharow (1761-1811). Since many of the original plans and drawings by the other architects are no longer preserved, these drawings are valuable as an important source of architectural history as well as for their artistic quality.

Tsarskoye Selo, ionic gallery, so called Cameron Gallery, view (c. 1795) by Giacomo QuarenghiKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The so-called Cameron Gallery was drawn by Thomon's colleague Giacomo Quarenghi and is still in Zarskoje Selo today.

View of exhibition hall 2 (2020)Original Source: Tchoban Foundation, Kunstbibliothek, Isabel Robson

Saint Petersburg, combat school, elevation, ground and first floor plans (c. 1800) by Jean-François Thomas de Thomon, Luigi Rusca (architect)Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Thomon's works are not architectural project drawings in the usual sense: Thomas de Thomon depicts the buildings in a picturesque staging, but also their cuts are depicted in the moving moor landscape on the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea. You can feel the low-lying clouds coming from the sea, the sunlight falling through them enchants the viewer. The depicted lighting mood and the colors of the buildings can still be experienced today.

Ansicht Sankt Petersburg, Grandes Ecuries de la Cour, Marstall, Aufriss der Fassade (c. 1800) by Thomon, Thomas de Thomon, Luigi Rusca (architect)Original Source: Tchoban Foundation, Kunstbibliothek, Isabel Robson

Thomas de Thomon was torn from life early in 1813 by the consequences of an accident on the construction site of the Bolshoi Theater. Jean-François Thomas de Thomon and his circle have shaped one of the most vibrant European cities to this day. Their buildings are a source of identity for Europe’s cultural heritage.

Exhibition poster (2020)Original Source: Tchoban Foundation, Kunstbibliothek, Isabel Robson

Credits: Story

Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and Tchoban Foundation. Museum for Architectual Drawing
Berlin, Germany

Exhibition and catalogue: Nadejda Bartels (Tchoban Foundation) and Elke Blauert (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin)
Text: Nadejda Bartels

Concept and Realisation: Justine Tutmann
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz / Photo: Dietmar Katz
Room views: © Isabel Robson
www.smb.museum.de; www.tchoban-foundation.de


A catalog was published on the occasion of the exhibition:
Nadejda Bartels und Elke Blauert (Hg.): Jean-François Thomas de Thomon. Zeichnungen für Sankt Petersburg aus der Sammlung der Kunstbibliothek – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin 2020 (German/English)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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