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Nevzorov Fine Arts Museum

It may come as a surprise to know that Semey is also the home of one of Kazakhstan's largest museums of fine art. Heading east along Abai Street from the Central Square, you reach on your left after three blocks the imposing Ionic-columned facade of the grand grey- painted building which houses the Nevzorov Fine Arts Museum. The museum has an interesting history. Opened in 1985, and finding itself sorely in need of artworks, the museum made overtures to a Moscow-based art collector named Yuli Nevzorov, who had considerably expanded the collection of Russian art which had built up in his family over two generations. In the late 1980s, Nevzorov and his family agreed to present the museum with more than 500 works of Russian, Soviet and western European art. In 1991, the museum was renamed in honour of the Nevzorov family in recognition of this gift. The oldest part of the building dates from the 1870s, when it was built for a local merchant named Fyodor Stepanov.

A portrait of Yuli Nevzorov hangs in the foyer of the museum. There is also a shop here, with a good range of local painting and jewellery on sale. The collection is extensive, and as you tour the many rooms you may start to wish uncharitably that Nevzorov had been a little less generous. The best place to start, to give an approximately chronological tour, is room 14 on the top floor, which houses icons and some 18th- and 19th-century Russian painting. A portrait by Vasily Tropinin from the 1840s, Old Woman Cutting her Fingernails, is an unusual and tender depiction of the artists wife. The next room contains a couple of classical woodland fantasies by Karl Brullov, including a depiction of Diana being seized by a lustful satyr while Endymion sleeps. There is more 19th-century Russian painting in the next two rooms, including some fine landscapes, such as Ivan Shishkin's Winter in a Forest from 1890, a chilly black and white scene. The next two rooms cover the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, with canvases such as a 1928 Still life of Vegetables and Woodcocks by Pyotr Konchalovsky, grandfather of the noted Russian filmmakers Andrei Konchalovsky and Nikita Mikhailov. Most of the items in the next room, graphics, were gifts to the fledgling museum in Semipalatinsk from the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, including a work by Rembrandt of The Descent from the Cross.

The next room is devoted to western European painting, a mixed bag which includes a large canvas of a Norwegian fjord by 19th-century English artist Henry Enfield. Ukrainian art is showcased in the following room, including a couple of pleasing rural paintings by Mikola Pimonenko. Laundress (1909) depicts a bare footed girl in a red dress doing the laundry, while an 1896 canvas portrays the man of the house returning home clearly the worse for wear: his wife stands ready to greet him, a stick concealed behind her. There is art from the late Soviet period in the next room, including Alexander Sitnikov's The Concert from 1984, its canvas burning a fierce red, a painting dedicated to Shostakovich.

The exhibitions continue downstairs, where the focus is on the art of Kazakhstan. Dulat Aliev's Bazaar from 1985 portrays a frosty-looking winter market scene. Note the pair of drunks in the bottom right corner of the canvas. V Kolmakov's Semipalatinsk street scene from 1912 shows the Alexander Nevsky Church, which was destroyed in the Soviet period, as well as the artist's workshop, the name 'kolmakov' emblazoned across a large billboard, allowing for no mistaking the identity of the painter. Also downstairs are temporary exhibitions, and the works of local schoolchildren line the corridor.