Russians break door at top museum as record crowds rush to art show

Russians queue to visit the Valentin Serov exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, on January 22, 2016 (AFP Photo/Vasily Maximov) (AFP)

Moscow (AFP) - A top Russian museum struggled to control record crowds on Friday as thousands rushed to see a 19th-century art exhibition, queing for hours in the snow and even breaking a door.

The exhibition of paintings by Valentin Serov, renowned for his society portraits, broke attendance records at Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery, with visitors queueing outside in freezing temperatures to see the show before it closes Sunday.

"Yesterday the entrance door was damaged," spokeswoman Anna Kotlyar told AFP. "This exhibition broke all records with over 400,000 visitors" since the it opened in October.

Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky also intervened on Friday, saying the museum would stay open "until the last visitor", instead of shutting its doors at 8 pm.

On Friday afternoon visitors told AFP they had waited for three hours and forty minutes to get in to the gallery.

The Tretyakov said it had been forced to halt sales of online tickets, which had let people bypass the queue, citing "serious problems at the entrance."

"Please dress warmly and keep calm," the Tretyakov wrote on its Facebook page as daytime temperatures on Friday stood around minus 10 degrees celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) with falling snow.

Serov, who died in 1911, was a successful portrait painter whose work is still hugely popular in Russia even if it is little known in the West.

His most iconic work "Girl with Peaches" depicts a young girl sitting at a table bathed in summer sun. He painted various Russian aristocrats including the last tsar Nicolas II.

Many of his paintings are on permanent display at the Tretyakov.

President Vladimir Putin visited the exhibition on Monday, possibly fuelling the show's success.

In recent years exhibitions of Western artists including Salvador Dali and Caravaggio have prompted enormous queues in Moscow.