The Shchukin Collection Comes to the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris

Le Port Derain
André Derain's 1905 painting Le Port (Port Vendres). Adagp

When the Fondation Louis Vuitton opened a couple of years ago, it was not without controversy. But since then, Paris has had other, rather more serious, things to worry about than a luxury-goods conglomerate constructing a huge Frank Gehry building in the middle of the Bois de Boulogne. Now the FLV has become one of the city's major cultural attractions. Like it or not, the fine arts have become a de facto branch of the luxury industry, and if that means shows such as "Icons of Modern Art," which brings the Shchukin collection—for decades split between the Hermitage and Pushkin museums in Russia—to the heart of Western Europe, there is quite a lot to like.

Sergei Shchukin was a successful, late 19th-century Russian businessman; happily, he was also an aesthete. He began collecting on a trip to Paris in 1897, and by 1908 the walls of his house in Moscow were crammed, frame to frame, with more than 250 examples of the Russian avant-garde and the masters of impressionism. Every major dealer of the day was selling to him, from commercial genius and so-called inventor of impressionism Paul Durand-Ruel to Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, the Colonel Parker to Picasso's Elvis. He was no hedge-funder cruising a Frieze art fair. But after the Bolshevik Revolution, his collection was broken up and handed to the state; it has not been reunited outside Russia since.

This is still just an edited selection, yet it takes over the whole of the FLV, and there are many ways of enjoying it. At its most simplistic, it is a fabulous greatest-hits compilation: Monet's Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe , Picasso's Buveuse d'Absinthe , Matisse's L'Atelier Rose. Such is the quantity and quality that some of the galleries are mini-shows of masterpieces by single artists (most notably Gauguin and Matisse), while careful positioning of exhibits makes it possible to demonstrate, for instance, just how close some early Picasso is to Lautrec. It allows the visitor to rediscover artists often eclipsed by the superstars of the early 20th century. André Derain comes across particularly well, with eight works, including a light-filled harbor scene, the Modigliani-esque portrait L'Homme au Journal and a haunting landscape called simply Le Bois.

In less-deft hands than those of curator Anne Baldassari, it could either become a sprawling checklist of masterpieces or a didactic art history lecture. Instead, she guides the visitor with subtlety and good humor to the final room. Here, a Malevich of four squares in black and white is hung high in a corner, Russian-icon style. Above it is a skylight, and above that the FLV's glass sails, covered with a checkerboard of translucent, multicolored panels by the French artist Daniel Buren. In a single glance, the links between 21st-century contemporary art and that of 100 years ago are shown more effectively than in any number of academic essays.

"The Shchukin Collection: Icons of Modern Art," Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris; October 22 to February 20;