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Bringing Russia to Dartmouth

The collapse of the Russian Empire and the Russian Revolution of 1917 had political, economic, and cultural repercussions the world over. The new Soviet government, imbued with a communist, populist ideology, rejected the earlier symbols of Russian culture associated with the czarist tradition. The Soviet Union thus found itself in possession of a wealth of artwork, once imperial Russian treasures, that it was eager to sell, both to propagandize the new regime and to create a much-needed revenue stream. Several wealthy art collectors in the West took advantage of the situation, purchasing imperial Russian art for their private collections throughout the inter-war period. Among these collectors was Ralph Sylvester Bartlett (1868-1960), Dartmouth Class of 1889, and this exhibit highlights his lasting fascination with Russian culture and art. His substantial gifts of books and artwork contributed enormously to the growth and development of Russian collections at Dartmouth College in the 20th century.

Bartlett bookplateBartlett was born in Eliot, Maine, in 1868. He attended the Berwick Academy before coming to Dartmouth in 1885. After his graduation, Bartlett attended Boston University Law School, where he received his LL.B. in 1892. He had a private law practice in Boston for most of his career and retired in 1933. Bartlett had a long and abiding love for Dartmouth, attending every football game between Dartmouth and Harvard since the stadium was built, as well as nearly every Commencement. He served his class as secretary and treasurer from 1942 until his death in 1960. He is buried in Hanover in Pine Knoll Cemetery.

Bartlett, an avid traveller, made his first trip to Russia as early as 1912, an experience he recounted in the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. On his many subsequent visits between the two World Wars, he amassed an impressive collection, acquiring artifacts from the palaces, museums, and monasteries of Czarist Russia. In 1928, he founded and managed Old Russia, a gallery on Arlington St. in Boston devoted to his Russian treasures. This collection was donated to Dartmouth shortly before his death. At the time, it was one of the ranking Russian collections in the country, boasting items such as porcelain, painted icons, badges and medals, religious objects in bronze, silver, and gold, books, textiles, and a gold-plated table service.

Bartlett portrait

Bartlett in native dress during a visit to the Caucasus in 1933.

Georgian man

A native Georgian -- Rostrom the Guide.

Photographs of Leningrad and Moscow taken by Bartlett in 1930. Hood Museum Collection.

Click on any image to enlarge.

Curated by Eric Esau and John DeSantis. Designed by Dennis Grady. Grateful acknowledgment to Kellen Haak, Kathleen O'Malley, Cynthia Gilliland (Hood Museum of Art), and Joshua Shaw (Rauner Special Collections Library). Bibliography and credits.

Last Updated: 4/19/17