The permanent exposition of the Kadriorg Art Museum presents the cream of the foreign art collection of the Art Museum of Estonia, which consists mostly of paintings, sculptures and applied art from Western Europe and Russia from the 16th to the 20th centuries.
The exposition has been divided into different national schools, of which the two largest and most comprehensive are the Netherlandish and the Russian schools; art from other countries is represented by works from various periods and movements.
The permanent display of the art from the Low Countries is dominated by works from the 17th century, which was the golden age of Netherlandish art. The very first works in the collection of the Art Museum of Estonia are from the Netherlands: the paintings Wedding Procession and Presentation of Gifts by the studio of Pieter Breughel the Younger, which arrived at the museum in 1919 and have been registered under the numbers EKM VM 1 and EKM VM 2. One of the most valuable masterpieces from the 16th century is the painting The Expulsion of Merchants from the Temple, which has been linked to the circle of Hieronymus Bosch and has even been the object of an international research project. Additionally, the display includes works of art by Jacob Jordaens, Leonhard Bramer, Maerten de Vos, Philips Wouverman, Bartholomeus van der Helst and others.
The oldest work in the permanent exposition of the Kadriorg Art Museum is a painting by the studio of a leading Reformation era artist, Lucas Cranach the Elder, entitled Portrait of John Frederick the Magnanimous, Prince-elector of Saxony, from the mid-16th century. The display is dominated by portraiture, represented by the well-known and productive 17th-century portrait painter Benjamin Block and the German portraitist Anton Graff, who was extremely popular among the Baltic nobility and wealthy urban bourgeoisie at the beginning of the 19th century. Graff’s portraits of the Õisu landowners von Sieverses represent the era’s understanding of true femininity and masculinity and are some of the artist’s best works.
Italian painting is represented in the permanent exposition by works of Bernardo Strozzi, Francesco Trevisani, Tommaso Salini, Andrea Vaccaro and other mostly 17th-century masters. The work of art by Annibale Carracci’s studio entitled The Martyrdom of Saint Stephen, in an idealising manner, is an example of the classicist and academist direction in Roman Baroque art. Most of the displayed works, however, are characterised by Caravaggio-like strong contrasts of light and shadow, together with a forcefully plastic treatment of form. Pietro Tenerani’s portrait bust of Princess Zinaida Volkonskaya is a dignified and yet sensitive example of the search for ideal physical and spiritual beauty common in classicist art.
The display of Russian art begins with 18th-century portraits by the founders of the Russian national school of painting: Fyodor Rokotov and Dmitry Levitzky. The Saint Petersburg Academy of Arts, which was established after the model of European art education institutions, is represented by the painting The Miracle of Saint Elizabeth, which has been attributed to Alexei Yegorov. The increase in the importance of landscape painting is visible in the seascapes by Ivan Aivazovsky and Alexey Bogolyubov. The exposition also includes works by significant masters of Russian realism: Ivan Kramskoi, Ilya Repin and Ivan Shishkin. Modernist innovations of the early 20th century can be seen in the works of Konstantin Korovin, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin and Sergei Vinogradov.
A separate room has been reserved for applied art, allowing the visitor to admire the output of Russian porcelain and glass manufactories, from figural series depicting different professions and nations living in Russia to propaganda porcelain.