Born in Kiev in 1915, Savitsky was an ethnic Russian from Kiev. He was a painter, archaeologist and, most of all, a collector of art and artefacts. He initially trained as an electrician, but in 1950 he joined the Khorezm Archaeological and Ethnographic Expedition with the renowned Russian archaeologist Sergei Tolstov. Savitsky joined up as the expedition's artist, and the trip was to begin a lifelong love affair with Karakalpakstan.
When the dig was complete, Savitsky stayed on in Nukus and began to collect items of anthropological and archaeological interest. He also started buying paintings by Uzbek artists and also a few by Russian artists from the avant-garde school, many of whom had been denounced by the Soviet leadership and were politically and commercially unpopular at home. Savitsky amassed such a large collection that he convinced the authorities of the need for a museum in which to house it all, and the Savitsky Museum was duly opened in 1966 with Savitsky himself as its first curator.
With exhibition space available, and the tacit acceptance of the authorities, Savitsky's acquisitive side was given free rein.Through a network of art dealers, friends and casual acquaintances he bought (or took with the promise of later payment) further works by Russian avant-garde artists including Kliment Redko, Lyubov Popova, Mukhina, Ivan Koudriachov and Robert Falk. These artists were already well-established names but their work was not widely accepted in Russia. It was therefore a buyer's market, and Savitsky seized the opportunity with both hands, albeit at great personal and professional risk. His purchases made during the late 1960s and 1970s form the core of the museum's 90,000 item collection today.
The story of Savitsky, the museum and some of the artists whose work it displays is told in the excellent 2010 film Desert of Forbidden Art.