Museum's website, September 25, 2015:
Other Europeans had been fascinated with Russia and its natives since before it came into existence as such. From that region of the earth had rumbled conquering hordes drawn of master horsemen from the great steppes of Europe, whether calling themselves Huns or Mongols, who had terrified even the warlike Romans and fierce Crusader knights. In the 18th century, Peter the Great and Catherine the Great had Westernized what was previously perceived as, at best, a semi-barbaric nation and made it more firmly European, an idea at which other Europeans looked somewhat askance. Particularly after Napoleons steady march across the continent was brought to a halt by the barbarities of the Russian winter: even the terrain was a fierce adversary. The assassination of Tsar Paul I, followed by the mysterious death of his heir Alexander I, did nothing to convince them of any Russian longing for peace and sophistication. When Tsar Nicholas I proved intent on building Europes largest army, the old apprehension re-emerged. Artists like Barye stoked the publics titillation with the depiction of exotic soldiery like this Tartar Warrior Checking His Horse.