The Hermitage (Dvortsovaya Ploshad 2, or Palace Square 2, on the Neva River) is the largest art gallery in the world. Located in the former Winter Palace of the Russian tsars and five other buildings on the Neva River, it contains 1,050 rooms with 365 galleries and more than 3 million works of art and artifacts. If an individual were to spend one minute in front of each object it would take 11 years to complete the tour. To walk around through all the galleries is a hike of 24 kilometers (15 miles).
The Hermitage is ranked with the Louvre in Paris, the Prado in Madrid and the Met in New York as one the world's four great art museums. Each year 4.2 million visitors come to the museum to see its great Impressionist paintings, Renaissance masterpieces, 5th century B.C. Scythian gold artifacts, Russia Orthodox Icons, abstract works of Russian Supremetists and Constructionists and more. Hermitage means “retreat.” It was name first used by Catherine the Great to describe a wing of the present gallery where she kept part of her collection.
The Hermitage is a must-see for any tourist visiting St. Petersburg. Among the things visitors will see in the museum's magnificent great halls and historical interiors are unique exhibits (such as the giant Peacock Clock), collections of antiquities (from classical sculptures to Egyptian mummies), works by Raphael, Titian, Matisse, Van Gogh, Degas, Picassco and other famous artists. It contains Russia's only painting by Leonardo da Vinci and sculpture by Michelangelo as well as the largest collection of Rembrandt s outside of the Netherlands.
The State Hermitage, as it is officially known, is an art, cultural, and historical museum. The nucleus of the museum is a collection of artworks that Russian Empress Catherine the Great purchased privately. The Complex is comprised of six buildings constructed in the 17th-19th centuries. The most significant of them — the Winter Palace — used to be the residence of Russia's royal family. The Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, and New Hermitage host collections of cultural artifacts and artworks of the ancient world, Western Europe, Russia, and eastern countries, as well as archaeological and numismatic collections. The Main Museum Complex also includes the Hermitage Theater and Zapasnoy Dom (Reserve House).
The Winter Palace, a former residence of Russian emperors and their families, is the main building of the Hermitage museum complex. The Winter Palace was commissioned in 1754 by Empress Elizabeth and was completed in 1762 and thus took about eight years to build. As the name states this palace was used by the tsars as their winter home (in the summer they stayed at their places in outskirts of St. Petersburg).
Winter Palace stands on the northern side of Palace Square. Sandwiched between the square and the Neva River, it is immense and goes on and on as if it were a wall not a building. Designed by the Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who also designed the Summer Palace of Catherine the Great and other buildings in St. Petersburg, the The Winter Palace is shaped like a rectangle, with a spacious intrinsic courtyard, and distinct facade lines that measure 200 meters (656 feet) in length and 117 meters (384 feet) in width.
The Winter Palace is associated Catherine the Great, Nicholas II and Lenin. Catherine the Great revamped the interior in a classical styles and entertained European intellectuals and romped with her lovers there. Nicholas II married princess Alexandra there but spent most of his time in other palaces. The Winter Palace remained an official residence of the tsars until 1917. On November 7, 1917, it was stormed on the orders of Lenin — one of the main events of the Bolshevik Revolution — and then was used to establish the world's first socialist government.
For 150 years the palace served as an imperial residence. In November 1917, after the October Revolution, it was declared a museum. The exhibition placed in the palace includes grand halls and chambers, collections of the antiquities of Eurasia and the East, as well as collections of European and Eastern paintings, sculptures, and decorative art works. It is possible to tour the Winter Palace without entering the Hermitage (1,500 rubles for a one-hour individual tour; 350 rubles admission).
Architecture of the Winter Palace
Designed by the Italian architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, the Winter Palace is a Baroque-Rococo structure famous for its rooftop statuary, spectacular marble staircases and richly decorated apartments, A brilliant example of the synthesis of architecture and decorative plastic art, the elegant, monumental palace is a striking monument to mid-18th-century Baroque style. In back of the Winter Palace are a row of classical statues that extend down to the Neva River.
All the facades are embellished by a two-tier colonnade. Forming a complex rhythm of verticals, the columns soar upwards, and this motion embraces the numerous statues and vases on the roof. The abundance of moulded decoration — fanciful cornices and window architraves, mascarons, cartouches, rocailles, and a variety of pediments — creates an extremely rich play of light and shade that invest the building's appearance with magnificence.
Developing upon one and the same architectural motif, Rastrelli gave each of the four facades of the palace a different structural rhythm. The southern facade, overlooking the square, has a formal grandeur. Here the architect pierced the building with three arches to create a grand entrance into the courtyard and accentuated it with the vertical elements of paired columns.
The majestic northern facade, giving the impression of an endless colonnade, faces the broad expanse of the Neva. The western facade, across from the Admiralty, is reminiscent of the composition of a countryside palace with a small courtyard. The monumental eastern facade with its massive side blocks forming a large cour d'honneur is turned to Millionnaya Street, where the mansions of the nobility stood.
History of the Hermitage
Initially all the art of the tsars were squeezed into a single building — The Winter Palace — but as the collection grew annexes — the Small Hermitage, the Old Hermitage and the Hermitage Theater — were built to accommodate the new additions. The New Hermitage was added in the 1850 by Nicholas I, who began allowing visitors to view the painting with special permission. Under Alexander II many of the galleries were open to the public in the 1860s.
At the time of the Bolshevik revolution, the Winter Palace was occupied by the short-lived democratic government of Alexander Kerensky. When Lenin came to power much of the artwork was carried off to Moscow. There was fear that the Winter Palace might be demolished but in the end the palace and its annexes were spared and the art was returned along with new pieces siezed from capitalists and aristocrats by the Communists.
Under the Communists the buildings and art were nationalized and the Winter Palace became known simply as the Hermitage. In 1918, the Communist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky suggested that the Hermitage be turned into a macaroni factory. "We do not need a dead mausoleum of art where dead works are worshiped," he said. The Hermitage survived World War II in spite of the fact it has hit with 32 artillery shells and two bombs, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, when it lost much of its funding and had its heat turned off.
Rooms of the Winter Palace and Hermitage
Some of richly decorated apartments of the Winter Palace still contain portraits of the tsar's families. The floors of many of the rooms are inlaid with floral designs made from rare woods and the walls are adorned with ivory and gold. Seeming to address the amount of gold encrusted arcades and ornately-carved furniture in the palace, Catherine the Great once said "I have a whole labyrinth of rooms...and all of them are filled with luxuries."
Visitors to the Winter Palace can see the Ballroom, th Imperial Bed Chamber, the Private Theater, and the Gallery of Heros, with portraits of all the generals who fought Napoleon. Catherine the Great's apartments in the Hermitage no longer exist. But there are rooms full of oil painting, marble busts, woven tapestries, cameos and porcelain figurines with her image.
Malachite Room is regarded as the most spectacular room in the palace. It is filled with columns, covered with two tons of malachite, a rare green mineral from the Urals. Almost everything in the Pavilion Hall is gilded — the columns, chandeliers, balcony railings and the trim. At the center of the room is an inlaid mosaic floor, modeled after a floor in a Roman bath, with designs of mythical creatures. On one side is the famous Peacock Clock which marks the hours with dancing peacocks, toadstools and cocks.
Throne Room is surprisingly modest. It contains a 30-square-meter (300-square-foot) map of the former Soviet Union made from 45,000 pieces of precious stones like jasper, ruby and emerald. Some of the doorknobs are cut from single precious stones. This room is where the Kerensky government held its last meeting before Lenin's Bolshevik's stormed the Winter Palace and took over the country.
Hermitage Theatre was designed by the Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi commissioned by Catherine the Great in 1783-1789 on the site of the former Winter Palace of Peter I. The auditorium of the theater is arranged like in an antique one: semicircular rows of benches are raising from the amphitheater. The hall of theater has conserved it original form. The Russian Ballet Theater created in 1990 by a family of professional actors and soloists of the Mariinsky Theater has been organizing and holding performances on the stage of the Hermitage Theater for more than 20 years. The auditorium is laid out and arranged so that with a sufficient area space for artists, it does not require the use of binoculars; everything that happens on stage, can be seen from any point. In addition, the layout of the hall allows sound and light scatter competently, without distortion.
Hermitage Expositions in the General Staff Building
The main exposition areas of the Hermitage in General Staff Building are combined into three enfilade lines: 1) the Dvortsovaya line along the square, 2) the Pevcheskaya line along the Pevchesky proezd; and 3) the Rechnaya line along the embankment of the river Moika. They and are supplemented by the central Large enfilade of internal atriums. A grand sweeping staircase, which is placed in the largest of five inner courtyards, leads to exposition area from the front entrance hall.
The museum’s second floor houses a permanent display The Age of Art Nouveau and a thematic exhibition devoted to the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Empire, which was once accommodated in this building. Occupying the third floor are the exhibitions Under the Sign of the Eagle. The Art of Empire; French Painting and Sculpture of the 19th Century; Western European Art of the 19th Century (Germany. Holland, Belgium), 18th century Russian Guards Museum,
The second floor also contains as a permanent display tracing the history of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Empire, which also used to occupy this part of the General Staff Building. French painting of the second half of the 19th century, including the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists and the artists of the Nabis group, is on view in the fourth floor rooms of Sergey Shchukin and the Morozov Brothers Memorial Gallery. Several rooms present the works by Matisse, Picasso and other 20th century masters. Temporary exhibitions are regularly held in the rooms of the General Staff Building. It is the main venue for contemporary art display.
History of Hermitage Collection
The Hermitage's collection was started by Peter the Great, as part of his "Window on Europe" campaign, and swelled under the free-spending Catherine the Great, who used her own private funds to purchase art and received advise from friends like the French intellectuals Diderot and Voltaire and purchased entire collections, including 600 works from a French baron and 225 works from a Prussian king.
Among Catherine's acquisitions were works by Frans Hals, von Aachen, and Rubens. She was especially fond of Rembrandt and bought his art when ever she could. By 1783, she had acquired 2,658 paintings, 10,000 sculptures and carvings and 10,000 drawings.
During much of the tsarist era the collection was for their eyes of the Russian royal family and their friends only. The name Hermitage came the French world “ermitage” ("home of the hermits"), the idea being that the tsars and their friends could mediate on works of art like monks in a monastery. It boggles the mind to think of all the serfs who must have labored to create the wealth to purchase a collection that was enjoyed by so few. After visiting the Hermitage for the first time, Nancy Reagan said that she now understood why the tsars were toppled.
The collection of Peter and Catherine the Great were augmented by Alexander I, who bought a collection from Napoleon's wife Josephine, and other tsars and people who worked for them or gave them art works as gifts. The bulk of the Impressionist collections comes from two Moscow merchants — Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov — who bought a great number of Picassos, Cézannes, Van Gogh and Matisses in the early 1900s when no one was interested in their work. Before World War I the Russian crown jewels were kept in the Winter Palace. When the World War I started they were moved to the Kremlin.
Over the years works have been lost and sold. In 1931, Stalin raised much needed foreign currency by selling artworks from the Hermitage, including 15 Rembrandts. Andrew Mellon bought 21 old masterpieces for US$7 million including a Raphael, Botticelli and Rembrandt, works that make up the core of the masters collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. In 1985, vandal badly damaged a Rembrandt with a knife and sulfuric acid.
Amazingly no works were lost in World War II during the 900 day siege of Leningrad when the building of the Hermitage were hit by 30 artillery shells. Two thirds of the museums's art works had been shipped by rail to the Ural Mountains and the remaining pieces survived intact in the museum's basements.
Art in the Hermitage
The Hermitage has perhaps the world's finest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art; more Rembrandts than other museum except the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and outstanding collections of ancient Greek, Egyptian, Dutch, Italian Renaissance and French art.
Only about 5 to 10 percent of the museum's 3 million pieces are on display. In addition to paintings and sculptures, the museum also contains wonderful collections of tapestries, priceless furniture, gilded carriages, costumes, architectural drawings, jewelry, prints, archaeological artifacts and engraved gems.
Peacock Clock, a life-size peacock clock constructed in Britain by goldsmith and entrepreneur James Cox in the 2nd half of the 18th century and acquired by Catherine the Great in 1781, is a favorite piece at the Hermitage. The clock is also shown daily on the Russian TV channel Russia-K. An intricate piece of engineering, the Peacock Clock is a large automaton featuring three life-sized mechanical birds: a peacock, owl and rooster. When it is wound up the peacock lifts its feathers, the owl opens its eyes and then the rooster calls. According to theculturetrip.com: “When the clock was first purchased by Catherine the Great, the mechanism suffered during transportation and had t be restored by Russian mechanics. It remains fully operational until today, but due to the fragility of the mechanism it is only wound up once a week, on Wednesdays.”
There are also artworks from Moldova, Siberia, Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Iran, India, China and Japan; and sculptures by Canova and Houdon. Tours of the Golden treasury, containing some of the tsar's crown jewels and the rare Scythian gold objects, are only offered a few days a month. The museum has a few branches within the city, each with a different theme. When St Petersburg was first pronounced the capital at the start of the 18th century, the relics of Alexander Nevsky were brought over and the Alexandra Nevsky Lavra built to house them. During the turbulent times of the Russian Revolution, the relics of Alexander Nevsky were looted. The massive silver sarcophagus, weighing 1.6 tonnes, was taken apart and moved to the Hermitage Museum where it can be seen today.
Organization of Art and the Business Side of the Hermitage
The Hermitage consists of five main linked buildings (from east to west): 1) the Winter Palace, 2) the Little Hermitage, 3) the Old Hermitage, 4) New Hermitage and 5) the Hermitage Theater. The art collection is housed in the three floors of the Winter Palace and two floors of the Little, New and Old Hermitages. Sometimes the New and Old Hermitages are grouped together and called the Large Hermitage.
The art collections is housed is 400 different numbered rooms that are more less organized in chronological order, with: A) rooms 1 through 131 devoted to ancient art; B) 147 to 166 for Russian art; C) 175 to 198 showcasing famous rooms in the palace; D) 207 to 241 containing art from the Italian Renaissance; E) 244 to 254 showcasing Flemish and Dutch art; F) 314 to 320 featuring pre-Impressionist, Impressionist and post-Impressionist works; G) 343 to 348 containing works by Picasso, Matisse and other cubist and abstract painters; and 9) 351 to 387 featuring art from Asia, Byzantium and the Middle East.
The Hermitage has been run for more than half a century by years by Boris Piotrovsky, 1964 to his death in 1990, and his son Mikhail, from 1990 to present. In the early 2000s, the Hermitage still relied on the government for two thirds of its funding and at that time only about 40 percent of that actually materialized. The need for seeking donations from other sources became especially acute after some of the collection was damaged when the heat in the museum was turned off in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Under the direction of Mikhail Piotrovsky — who is one of the most well-known figures in St. Petersburg — the Hermitage has earned money from sponsorships with private companies such as IBM, Honeywell and Coca-Cola and formed a partnership with the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and collaborate with them on an exhibition in Las Vegas, and made money-generating deals to display its works in exhibitions aboard. Interros, a business group with holdings in nickel, insurance and media, has given the museum US$1 million and was allowed to drape a banner across the front of the museum saying it had done so.
Antiquities and Scythian Pieces in the Hermitage
Among the antiquities in the Hermitage world's oldest rug, found in the 5th century B.C. frozen tomb of a nomadic tribal chief from Pazyryk in southern Siberia. Also found in the tomb were artifacts from China and artwork with Persian designs, evidence of early Silk Road trade. Pazyrk items in the Hermitage include mummified bodies, a funeral chariot and wood carvings. The most interesting piece in the collection is a felt saddle cover, trimmed with leather, fur, hair and gold, and showing an eagle-griffin attacking a goat.
There are also female figurines from 2200 B.C., spectacular Scythian gold pieces, impressive works from ancient Greece and Rome, antiquities from Moldova, Siberia, Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Iran, India, China and Japan; sculptures by Canova and Houdon. Tours of the Golden treasury, containing the tsar's crown jewels and the rare Scythian gold objects, are only offered a few days a months. The museum has a few branches within the city, each with a different theme.
The Hermitage collection of Scythian antiquities is renowned worldwide, its nucleus consisting of finds from burial complexes in the Crimea, Kuban basin and in the valleys of the Dnieper and Don rivers. The collection contains objects created in the Scythian Animal style, and items made by Greek craftsmen or imported from Oriental countries and the nearby Classical centers to the North of Black Sea and intended for Scythian noblemen.
According to Scythian tradition, alongside a dead chief the tribe buried his wives, servants, armour-bearers, grooms and horses, and these burials thus contain numerous artifacts, from weapons and harness to everyday objects and a multiplicity of personal adornments. Most valuable of all is the Scythian Gold, often lavishly decorated with precious stones. Two gold shield emblems in the forms of a panther and stag – the Kelermes Panther and the Kostromsky Stag (from burial mounds in the Kuban area, 7th century BC) – are true masterpieces, which have come to symbolize the achievements of Scythian craftsmen. These two animals were hugely popular during the Scythian era and appear on many objects. [Source: The Hermitage]
No less remarkable are the articles from the burial mounds of Scythian chiefs (5th to 4th centuries BC), executed in the Graeco-Scythian style and decorated with scenes from a Scythian heroic epic: the gold comb from the Solokha burial mound; gold and silver vessels from the Kul-Oba and Chastye barrows; a silver amphora bearing relief representations of scenes from Scythian life (Chertomlyk burial mound). The detailed images on these pieces make it possible for us to picture the appearance of the Scythians, their clothes and weapons.
Rich tombs beneath tumuli and ancient settlements in the area of the forested steppes, inhabited by the tribes subject to the Scythians, have also yielded hand-made clay vessels, farming tools, utensils, arms and armour and objects associated with the working of bronze and iron, both imported and of local production.
Among the objects owned by the Hermitage that were loaned to the British Museum for an exhibition were gold treasures, fragments of tattooed human skin (fourth-third century BC) found at Pazyryk (south of Novosibirsk) and a recently-discovered battle axe (seventh century BC) excavated at Arzhan (just north of the Mongolian border). Two lumps of cheese (fourth-third century BC) were preserved by permafrost at Pazyryk. The British Museum curator, St John Simpson, says that further research could determine whether the cheese is made from goats, sheep or yaks milk. [Source: Martin Bailey, Art News, May 2017]
Renaissance Art at the Hermitage
The Hermitage has a justifiably famous collection of Renaissance art. One of the Hermitage's greatest treasures is Leonardo da Vinci's “Madonna Litta,” purchased from the Duke of Litta in 1865. The museum boasts another painting by da Vinci and some of the few works by Michelangelo found outside Italy. Its collection of Spanish painting is second only to the Prado in Spain; it has more Rembrandt's than any museum outside of the Netherlands and many works by Dutch masters..
Famous works by old masters include Frans Hals “Portrait of a Young Man With a Glove”, Hans von Aaachen's “Allegory of Peace”, “Giorgione's “Judith”, Titian's “Mary Magdalene in Petinenece”, Caravaggio's “The Lute Player”, El Greco's “St. Peter and St. Paul”, Velasquez's “Breakfast” and Goya's “Portrait of Actress Antonia Zaratae.” There are also two small Boticellis, and works by Fra Angelico, Filippino Lippi, Veronese, Murillo, Canova and Van Dyck.
Madonna Litta was made in the 15th century. According to theculturetrip.com: “ Although the authorship of the painting remains unknown, based on sketches it is widely attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. The painting depicts a woman breastfeeding her newborn son. The face of the mother is almost lit up and a hint of a smile can be seen in the corners of her mouth as she lovingly looks down at the child. For the better part of the 19th century the painting was in possession of the Milanese house of Litta, thus giving it the name.” .Traditionally, it is supposed that it was painted by Leonardo da Vinci, but there is also a guess that the picture was made by his pupil. At the Louvre, there is a pencil drawing of Madonna attributed to da Vinci.. The face in that picture is similar to the Madonna Litta's one. [Source: guidetopetersburg.com, theculturetrip.com, October 2017]
Conestabile Madonna is miniature painting by Raphael depicting the Madonna holding her child while reading a book. The work is unfinished. Art critics speculate that this was the last work of a 20-year-old Raphael in Umbria before he moved to Florence. This painting is the only Rafael in Russia. It a gift from the Russian emperor Alexander II to his wife Maria Alexandrovna. When the painting was transferring from a board to a on canva, art historians found the first rendering of Madonna held a garnet — a symbol of victims and spilled blood. — in her arm instead of a book.
Apostles Peter and Paul was painted by El Greco in 1587-1592 in Spain. The figure on the right is Paul, delivering a sermon with his hand on a book. He looks confident yet calm. Peter, on the left, looks weak and puzzled. The figures differ from traditional depictions of holy figures in that they are not idolized but rather are rendered more realistically with human flaws. El Greco was condemned by the Spanish king for doing this.
Danae by Titian was made in 1554 in Italy. It is one of Titian’s most famous and erotic paintings. The scene portrays the moment of seduction of Danae by Zeus, when he appears to her in the form of a shower of gold. The colors are very robust. The Russian poet Maximilian Voloshin described them as autumn and bronze.
The Lunch is an early paintings by the Spanish artist Diego Velasquez. The painting depicts a groups of men gathered around a simple lunch table with two pomegranates and a piece of bread. Check out the details such as the small creases in the table cloth and on the collars of the men. The lighting of the painting brings to life the facial expressions of the men and highlights their wrinkles.
Bacchus Peter Paul Rubens depicts a Bacchanalia (wild, debauched feast) filled with wine, lead by the god of wine himself. The vivid and realistic depictions of the human bodies is a hallmark of Ruben’s work. The Bacchanalia theme was common in Renaissance and post-Renaissance art but usually Bacchus was absent.
The Lute Player is an early work by Caravaggio full of symbolism and romance. Caravaggio himself was fond of the work.
Rembrandts at the Hermitage
The Rembrandt Room a hall is devoted to the paintings of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669), The 20 Rembrandts possesses by the Hermitage include “Abraham's Sacrifice of Isaac,” “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” two canvases called “Portraits of an Old Man”, and “Saskia as Flora”. Among the other works are “Portrait of a Scholar”, “Baartgen Martens Doomer”, “David and Jonathan”, “David and Uriah”, “Descent from the Cross”, “Old Soldier”, “Portrait of Jeremias de Decker” and “Young Woman with Earrings”. All of these painting may not be on display at one time. The doors leading into the neighbouring hall are flanked by works painted by well-known members of the school of Rembrandt: a Self-Portrait by Samuel Dircksz van Hoogstraten (1627–1772) and a Portrait of a Man by Ferdinand Bol (1606–1680). On the partition is Rembrandt’s celebrated painting The Return of the Prodigal Son.
Danae is perhaps the most erotic painting Rembrandt ever did. It depicts the mother of Perseus, impregnated by Zeus in the form of a shower of gold. Originally the model for the painting was Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia, but her face was later changed to that of his lover, Geertje Dircx. In 1985, the painting was badly damaged by a mad man who slashed it several times with a knife and threw sulfuric acid on it. The work was carefully restored but much of the original painting was compromised.
Return of the Prodigal Son is one of Rembrandt’s better known painting and was painted by the artist from 1666 until 1669. One of his final works, it depicts the final scene of a popular New Testament parable about the prodigal son and addresses the theme of compassion and filial love. In the foreground there are two people – the father and the son, who has just returned to his father's house. The father is glad to see his son and welcomes him back taking his son back even though wasted all of his inheritance and descended into poverty.. Nobody knows who the other four people in the painting are, perhaps other family members. Light is focused on the father’s forgiving face while the other figures are cloaked in shadows. The painting was bought by Russian ambassador and diplomat Dmitry Golitsin in France and placed in the Hermitage in 1766. [Source: guidetopetersburg.com]
Sacrifice of Isaac is by the door leading to the Council Staircase. According to the Hermitage it “is a masterpiece of the dynamic expressive Baroque style in Rembrandt’s oeuvre: the monumental Sacrifice of Isaac depicting a well-known episode from the Old Testament. The emotional tension reaches its peak in the majestic, moving image of the biblical patriarch Abraham on the point of obeying God’s command and sacrificing his only son Isaac, when an angel sent from heaven stays his hand.”
Impressionist Collection at the Hermitage
The Hermitage’s French collection draws the biggest crowds. The collection of pre-Impressionist, Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings is even greater than the Louvre (this claim can be made because most of Paris's Impressionist paintings are in the Musee d' Orsay). There are works by Corot, Courbet, Millet, Delacroix, Rodin, Rousseau, Forain, Pissaro, Sisely, Renoir, Degas, Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Gaugin.
Among the memorable paintings here are “Luxembourg Gradem Monument to Chopin” by Henri Rousseau and “Woman Holding Fruit” (1893) by Paul Gauguin. “Poppy Field” is one of the many landscape paintings produced by Claude Monet at his house at Giverny. Several of these featured fields of poppy and this is one of those. “Lady in a Black Dress” depicts a “typical Renoir woman”.
The bulk of this collections comes from two Moscow merchants — Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov— who bought a great number of Picassos, Cézannes, Van Gogh and Matisses in the early 1900s when no one was interested in their work, and then had their collections seized by the Communists. In 1917 Morozov’s collection was divided between the Hermitage and The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. Since then the painting has been presented in the Hermitage.
Many of the others were taken form the Germans in World War II. Among these are Degas's “Place de la Concorde” (one of artist great masterpieces which was believed to have been lost) and “The Dancer,” Van Gogh's “The White House” (one of his last paintings), Gauguin's “Two Sisters,” Monet's “Garden in Aregenteuil,” Cezanne's “Houses Along a Road,” Villard's “Old Woman Near a Mantlepiece” and three Renoirs, including “In the Garden” and “Girl with a Fan” (1880). These works were shown at an exhibition in 1995 and then returned to storage. Much of the Hermitage's German loot, including 89 Impressionist works, came from the personal collection of German industrialist Mannheim Krebs. The works had been found in a safe room on his estate.
“Memory of the Garden at Etten” (Ladies of Arles) by Vincent Van Gogh first was intended to be a decoration in his own home. The painting was made while the artist was in Arles, where the work was made and his father was serving as pastor. “Tratched Cottages and Houses” was painted by Van Gogh's several months before his death in 1890. This painting was bought by the collector Morozov.
“The Woman Holding Fruit” was originally named “When Are You Going” and was painted was by Paul Gauguin in 1893 during his first visit to Tahiti. The picture depicts a Tahiti village. In the foreground there is a woman who is walking with a big fruit in her arms. All colors convey the island’s tropical climate. In the background there are two other women looking a the central figure. This work was also purchased by Morozov and then placed in Hermitage in 1917.
“Place de la Concorde” by Edgar Degas differs from his iconic paintings of ballerinas. The work portrays the Lepic family and their dog crossing the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The awkward positioning of the figures and the unusual use of space suggests the work may have been created from a photograph. After World War II the painting was considered lost. After decades it was found by Russian authorities and placed in the Hermitage Museum.
Modern Paintings at the Hermitage
Among the 35 works by Matisse is one of his most famous paintings, “La Danse,” a huge oil painting from 1909 that shows five nudes dancing hand-in-hand in a circle. It is one of the two paintings by Henri Matisse sharing the same name, the sister being located in the New York Museum of Modern Art. The large decorative panel was originally commissioned by Russian businessman Sergei Shukin for his mansion in Moscow where it remained until the Revolution It and Picasso's “Les Demoiselles d' Avingnon” are considered my many art critics to be the two most important paintings of the 20th century. You can also see Matisse's “Ballerina.”
Shchukin owned 51 Picassos, the largest collection then in the world. Many of the Picasso's are from the artist's Blue Period. They include “The Absinthe Drinker” and “The Portrait of Bennet Soler.” There are also some cubist works by Picasso as well as paintings by Bonnard, Vlaminck, Marquet, Leger.
“Two Sisters (Meeting), painted in 1902, is one of the more famous Picassos at the Hermitage. According to theculturetrip.com: “Picasso created the plot of this picture in a hospital for prostitutes. In the picture there are two women. One is holding a baby giving it to her sister, who is going to take it to the monastery. The painting has only cold colors: there are only humility and redemption without any love, happiness and faith. The author introduces a biblical motive: a sinner and a monk are similar to God. Because of this the painting has such name. The monk sister is ready to take a sinner’s baby. There is a shade only behind the sinner – it also is a symbolical detail”.
On Kadinsky’s “Composition VI” theculturetrip said: “In the painting that may seem a blur to the layman viewer, Kandinsky has dissolved many images including nudes, animals, palm, rain etc. Despite the complexity of the work, it was completed within a span of three days and thus a Kandinsky monumental masterpiece was born, making the artist a notable figure of the Abstract movement.”
Visiting the Hermitage
The Hermitage is open from 10:30am to 6:00pm daily except Wednesday when it closes at 9:00pam and Monday when it is closed all day. It is also closed on certain holidays such as January 1st and May 9th. There are often long lines to get in in the summer. The third Thursday of each month is a day of free entrance to the museum for all individual visitors (with free tickets). However, often you would have to stand in a long line in the Palace Square for several hours to get in. Free entrance: preschool children, school children, students Support service: E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ; Tel: +7 (812) 429-74-07.
Tickets Purchased Online: US$17.95: One-day entrance ticket to the Main Museum Complex and General Staff Building. US$23.95: Two-day entrance ticket to the Main Museum Complex, General Staff Building, Winter Palace of Peter the Great, Menshikov Palace, the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory. An online ticket voucher is valid for 180 days. There may be extra charges for a camera and for a video camera. Flash photography is not allowed.
Tickets purchase at the museum’s ticket offices on the day of the visit: 700 RUB – entry ticket to the Main Museum Complex and the branches (the Main Museum Complex, the General Staff Building, Winter Palace of Peter the Great, Menshikov Palace, the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory); 400 RUB - entry ticket to the Main Museum Complex and the branches (the Main Museum Complex, the General Staff Building, Winter Palace of Peter the Great) for Russian and Belarusian citizens 300 RUB - entry ticket to one of the Hermitage branches: the Winter Palace of Peter the Great; the Menshikov Palace; the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory: the Staraya Derevnya Restoration and Storage Centre (visit only with a guided tour by reservation, please call +7 (812) 340-10-26).
A visit to the Hermitage normally takes from three to five hours. It is easy to get lost and, unless you have unlimited time, some planning is necessary to see all the works of art you want to see. Before setting out it is a good idea to get a floor plan from the museum shop or check the Hermitage web site. The Hermitage web site (http://hermitagemuseum.org) is first rate. It was designed by IBM and utilizing some of the highest quality scanning equipment. Virtual tours show both the art and ornate surroundings. [Source: Russian Tourism Official Website]
Of all the world great museums, the Hermitage is probably in the worst shape: the galleries can be cold (the "babushka brigade" of attendants is often clad in sweaters). You can paint curling off the damp walls, cracking veneer in the doors and poor lighting. It estimated that US$400 million is needed to restore and modernize the museum. Money is currently being raised by UNESCO and private donations.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website russiatourism.ru ), Russian government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in September 2020