The Hermitage Museum: French Impressionists, St. Petersburg, Russia

The triumphal arch, a monument to Russia’s victory in the war of 1812, atop The General Staff Building, one of the most famous architectural monuments in St. Petersburg, Russia, designed by the architect K. I. Rossi, built 1820 to 1830

The triumphal arch, a monument to Russia’s victory in the war of 1812, atop The General Staff Building, one of the most famous architectural monuments in St. Petersburg, Russia, designed by the architect K. I. Rossi, built 1820 to 1830

 

After our tour of the European Masterpieces in The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia [see our previous blog post], we had the opportunity for a private tour of the Hermitage’s “Treasure Gallery” where the country’s amazing collection of state “jewels” is housed.  “Containing the Hermitage’s most valuable collections of jewelry and gold, these heavily guarded galleries in two parts of the museum’s first floor are… a remarkable collection of priceless artifacts, from ancient Scythian and Greek gold work to exquisite decorations from St. Petersburg’s court jewelers, including Carl Faberge.  Although the modern, high-security displays are somewhat soulless in comparison to the rest of the Hermitage, the opulence of the exhibits on display is overwhelming, including exquisite Scythian shield ornaments from the Crimea, jewel-encrusted icon casings, and intriguing historical curios such as Sir Francis Drake’s pendant.” – www.saint-petersburg.com

Following our tour of the Treasure Gallery of the Hermitage Museum in the Winter Palace, we crossed Palace Square and went through the arch of Carlo Rossi’s General Staff building that defines the south side of Palace Square.  We then entered the so-called Hermitage XXI, the home of the museum’s superb collection of Impressionist and Postmodern art which relocated in five of the General Staff Buildings in 2014.

 

From the ceremonial entrance hall, the majestic staircase located in the largest of the five inner courts leads to the exhibition spaces in the east wing of the General Staff Building, now part of The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

From the ceremonial entrance hall, the majestic staircase located in the largest of the five inner courts leads to the exhibition spaces in the east wing of the General Staff Building, now part of The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

“The State Hermitage Museum is finally dragging itself into the modern age.  The museum – which began life in the 18th century as the private art collection of the Romanovs and morphed spectacularly through Catherine the Great’s art grabs in the auction houses of Western Europe to become quite possibly the greatest collection of European art in history – has been in need of modern hanging space for some time.  That this has taken a while is hardly surprising, given that the main museum buildings are historically significant palaces which cannot be altered easily and were not built to be public galleries in the first place.

“To mark the museum’s 250th anniversary, the Hermitage has reopened Carlo Rossi’s staggering early-19th-century General Staff Building, having totally refitted its interior.  This is now a startling combination of sky-lit atriums, brushed concrete walls and spaces that could well have been newly built for the optimal display of modernist friezes and landscapes.  The redeployment of the 19th- and 20th-century collections (formerly on display in the state rooms of the Winter Palace across the square) is now complete – the extra space means that in many cases new paintings, which had been hidden away in storage or in other buildings of the museum, have finally made it into the display.

“And this is no ordinary collection, but a roll call of the greats in modern European art.  Many of the paintings here were culled by the Bolsheviks from the private collections of Russian businessmen Sergei Shchukin and the Morozov brothers, and even from that of German industrialist Otto Krebs, whose collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings was removed by the Red Army from the ruins of Nazi Germany in 1945.  The paintings here include key works of Monet, Cézanne, Renoir, Degas, Gauguin, Seurat, Pissarro, Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso, to name but a few.” – lonelyplanet.com

 

Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) “Meadows at Giverny”, 1888, oil on canvas, from S. I. Shchukin’s collection, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) “Meadows at Giverny”, 1888, oil on canvas, from S. I. Shchukin’s collection, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Camille Pissarro (1830 – 1903) “Place du Theatre Francais, Paris”, 1898, oil on canvas, from S. I. Shchukin’s collection, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Camille Pissarro (1830 – 1903) “Place du Theatre Francais, Paris”, 1898, oil on canvas, from S. I. Shchukin’s collection, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Auguste Renoir (1841 – 1919) “Young Woman with a Fan”, 1880, oil on canvas, from I. A. Morozov’s collection, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Auguste Renoir (1841 – 1919) “Young Woman with a Fan”, 1880, oil on canvas, from I. A. Morozov’s collection, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Paul Cezanne (1839 – 1906) “Bathers”, ca. 1890-1891, oil on canvas, from Otto Krebs’s collection, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Paul Cezanne (1839 – 1906) “Bathers”, ca. 1890-1891, oil on canvas, from Otto Krebs’s collection, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Paul Cezanne (1839 – 1906) “Mont Saint-Victoire”, ca. 1896-1898, oil on canvas, from I. A. Morozov’s collection, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Paul Cezanne (1839 – 1906) “Mont Saint-Victoire”, ca. 1896-1898, oil on canvas, from I. A. Morozov’s collection, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903) “Les Parau Parau (Conversation)”, 1891, oil on canvas, from I. A. Morozov’s collection, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903) “Les Parau Parau (Conversation)”, 1891, oil on canvas, from I. A. Morozov’s collection, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890) “The White House at Night””, June 1890, oil on canvas, from Otto Krebs’s collection, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890) “The White House at Night””, June 1890, oil on canvas, from Otto Krebs’s collection, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

 

The Hermitage Museum: European Masterpieces (part II), St. Petersburg, Russia

Façade of the courtyard entrance to The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Façade of the courtyard entrance to The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

On our second tour of the European Masterpieces wing of the vast Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia [see our earlier blog post], we had a chance to visit different rooms.  This vast collection was given a solid foundation by the collecting of Catherine the Great in the mid-18th century, with many additions over the following 250 years.

 

Many of the larger European paintings rooms are hung “salon style” in order to display a larger number of paintings, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Many of the larger European paintings rooms are hung “salon style” in order to display a larger number of paintings, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Peter Paul Rubens (1577 Germany – 1640 Antwerp) “Roman Charity (Cimon and Pero)”, oil on canvas, acquired in 1768 from the collection of Count C. Cobenzl, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Peter Paul Rubens (1577 Germany – 1640 Antwerp) “Roman Charity (Cimon and Pero)”, oil on canvas, acquired in 1768 from the collection of Count C. Cobenzl, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Peter Paul Rubens “Portrait of a Lady-in-Waiting to the Infanta Isabel (Portrait of Rubens’ Daughter Clara Serena?)”, oil on panel, acquired in 1772 from the Crozat collection, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Peter Paul Rubens “Portrait of a Lady-in-Waiting to the Infanta Isabel (Portrait of Rubens’ Daughter Clara Serena?)”, oil on panel, acquired in 1772 from the Crozat collection, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Entrance hall for visiting dignitaries, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

The view down the length of the European Sculpture Gallery, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

The view down the length of the European Sculpture Gallery, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Here are some facts about the Hermitage’s amazing art collection:

  • officially began in 1764 when Catherine the Great made her first bulk purchase of 225 paintings from a Berlin merchant, including thirteen Rembrandts and eleven Rubens.  Ironically, the collection had originally been intended for Catherine’s adversary, Frederick the Great of Prussia, but poor Frederick was forced to decline as his unsuccessful wars with Russia had resulted in a deficit of funds.

* increased exponentially as Catherine’s diligent agents purchased massive lots of artwork across Europe.  By the time of her death in 1796, she had amassed thousands of items including paintings, books, drawings, jewelry, coins, medals, sculpture, and copies of original Vatican frescoes, and had expanded the complex beyond the Small Hermitage to include the Large (Old) Hermitage and the Hermitage Theatre.

* continued to burgeon, causing Nicholas I to commission the New Hermitage, built between 1842 and 1851, with its Atlas-embellished entrance on Millionaya Street.  This was the only part of the complex that was occasionally opened to the well-heeled public until after the Revolution in 1917.

* greatly benefited from the confiscational mindset of the post-revolutionary period and actually increased threefold as many valuable private collections were expropriated by the state and deposited in the Hermitage.  This influx of, among other things, Matisses, Picassos, and Gaugins helps to compensate somewhat for the artworks secretly sold off for hard currency by Stalin in the 1920s and 1930s. – www.saint-petersburg.com

 

Wall and ceiling paintings in the European Sculpture Gallery, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Wall and ceiling paintings in the European Sculpture Gallery, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Detail of European Sculpture Gallery, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Detail of European Sculpture Gallery, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 – 1669 The Netherlands),  “Danaë” (185 cm × 203 cm; 73 in × 80 in), acquired in 1772 for the Hermitage with the Crozat Collection, Paris; The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 – 1669 The Netherlands), “Danaë” (185 cm × 203 cm; 73 in × 80 in), acquired in 1772 for the Hermitage with the Crozat Collection, Paris; The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

“Danaë is Rembrandt‘s painting from the collection of Pierre Crozat which since the 18th century has resided in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.  It is a life-sized depiction of the character Danaë from Greek mythology, the mother of Perseus.  She is presumably depicted as welcoming Zeus, who impregnated her in the form of a shower of gold.  Given that this is one of Rembrandt’s most magnificent paintings, it is not out of the question that he cherished it, but it also may have been difficult to sell because of its eight-by-ten-foot size.  Although the artist’s wife Saskia was the original model for Danaë, Rembrandt later changed the figure’s face to that of his mistress Geertje Dircx.” — Wikipedia

 

A winner in the annual students’ art completion, this year depicting one of the 30 cats that live in the basement of the museum – a group of “protectors” to catch the museum mice!; The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

A winner in the annual students’ art completion, this year depicting one of the 30 cats that live in the basement of the museum – a group of “protectors” to catch the museum mice!; The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

 

The Hermitage Museum: European Masterpieces, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

The Hermitage Museum (in the Winter Palace), St. Petersburg, Russia

The Hermitage Museum (in the Winter Palace), St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Following our introductory tour of the Winter Palace, we continued on into the section of the palace that is the beginning of the Hermitage Museum.  Our tour this evening focused on the European Masterpieces section of the permanent collection galleries, with the most time spent in the Rembrandt van Rijn room.

“From the 1760s onwards the Winter Palace was the main residence of the Russian Tsars.  Magnificently located on the bank of the Neva River, this Baroque-style palace is perhaps St. Petersburg’s most impressive attraction.  Many visitors also know it as the main building of the Hermitage Museum… Today the Winter Palace, together with four more buildings arranged side by side along the river embankment, houses the extensive collections of the Hermitage.  The Hermitage Museum is the largest art gallery in Russia and is among the largest and most respected art museums in the world.  The museum was founded in 1764 when Catherine the Great purchased a collection of 255 paintings from the German city of Berlin.  Today, the Hermitage boasts over 2.7 million exhibits and displays a diverse range of art and artifacts from all over the world and from throughout history (from Ancient Egypt to the early 20th century Europe).  The Hermitage’s collections include works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian, a unique collection of Rembrandts and Rubens, many French Impressionist works by Renoir, Cezanne, Manet, Monet and Pissarro, numerous canvasses by Van Gogh, Matisse, Gaugin and several sculptures by Rodin.  The collection is both enormous and diverse and is an essential stop for all those interested in art and history. The experts say that if you were to spend a minute looking at each exhibit on display in the Hermitage, you would need 11 years before you’d seen them all.” – www.saint-petersburg.com

 

“Madonna and Child with Flowers” (Benois Madonna), 1478 by Leonardo da Vinci, oil on canvas, 49.5 cm × 33 cm (19.5 in × 13 in), Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

“Madonna and Child with Flowers” (Benois Madonna), 1478 by Leonardo da Vinci, oil on canvas, 49.5 cm × 33 cm (19.5 in × 13 in), Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

“The Hermitage’s collection of Western European Art is one of the finest in the world, containing masterpieces from all the major centers of artistic development in Europe from the 13th to the 19th centuries.  Based on the collections bought up by Catherine the Great to fill the walls of the Small and Great Hermitages, it has been expanded over the years through further Imperial purchases, Bolshevik confiscation of private collections, and appropriation of artwork in conquered Germany.” – www.saint-petersburg.com

 

An elaborate 17th century mantle clock in front of a mirror showing the decorations typical of many of the exhibition rooms in the European Masterpieces permanent exhibition wing of the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

An elaborate 17th century mantle clock in front of a mirror showing the decorations typical of many of the exhibition rooms in the European Masterpieces permanent exhibition wing of the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia


“Among the most famous works in the collection, which occupies the first floor of the Winter Palace and the Great Hermitage, are the major collections of paintings by Rubens and Rembrandt, two of twelve surviving works by Leonardo da Vinci – the tiny Benois Madonna of 1478 and the more impressive Madonna Litta of 1490-91 – and canvases by Titian, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, El Greco and Goya, to name but a few.  Less fashionable, though equally impressive, are the large collections of French neoclassical painting, particularly works by Poussin and Lorrain.  Even the collection of English art contains noteworthy canvases by Gainsborough and Reynolds. .” – www.saint-petersburg.com

 

"Return of the Prodigal Son" by Rembrandt van Rijn, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

“Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt van Rijn, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

“Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 – 1669) is considered one of Europe’s greatest artists as well as the most significant painter in Dutch history, renowned for his expressive use of light and shadow, his restrained color palette, and his psychological and emotional perception… [The collection includes] a charming depiction of his wife as the goddess of spring in Flora (1634) [and at] the far end of the room where we find the monumental, moving Return of the Prodigal Son (1669).  Rembrandt painted this masterpiece towards the end of his career and it was still in his studio when he died.  The subject matter comes from the Gospel according to Luke, in which Jesus relates the tale of a young man who demands his inheritance from his father and then absconds to a far county where he squanders the money on riotous living until, running out, he falls into the severest poverty.  Desperate but repentant, he returns to his father, who rather amazingly, runs to greet him, welcoming him home with open arms, saying ‘We should be glad: for this son was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.’  It is this moment of reunion that Rembrandt has chosen to depict: the son has fallen to his knees, reflecting his shame and degradation, yet also his repentance.  His back is to us, but we can still observe his dreadful condition in the dirty foot, ragged shoes, tattered clothing, and shorn head that rests against the father’s chest.  The magnanimous father, emerging from the shadows, enfolds this beggarly prodigal in his warm red cloak, his hands placed comfortingly, lovingly on the boy’s back.  The old man appears nearly blind, but surely Rembrandt has succeeded here in creating one of the most astonishing countenances in all of art history, a face that radiates the forgiveness, mercy, and compassion of God.” – www.saint-petersburg.com

 

“Portrait of an Old Man in Red” by Rembrandt van Rijn, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

“Portrait of an Old Man in Red” by Rembrandt van Rijn, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

“David’s Parting from Jonathan”, 1642, by Rembrandt van Rijn, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

“David’s Parting from Jonathan”, 1642, by Rembrandt van Rijn, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

“Flora”, 1634, by Rembrandt van Rijn, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

“Flora”, 1634, by Rembrandt van Rijn, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Highly decorated ceiling in one of the exhibition rooms in the European Masterpieces permanent exhibition wing of the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Highly decorated ceiling in one of the exhibition rooms in the European Masterpieces permanent exhibition wing of the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Salon style display of paintings in the European Masterpieces permanent exhibition wing of the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Salon style display of paintings in the European Masterpieces permanent exhibition wing of the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

stubborn

“Madonna and Child” (The Conestabile Madonna), by Rafaello Santi, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Commissioned by Empress Catherine II in the late 1780s, the Raphael Loggias are the exact copy of the Gallery in the Papal Palace in Vatican City; its vaults are decorated with scenes from biblical stories; Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Commissioned by Empress Catherine II in the late 1780s, the Raphael Loggias are the exact copy of the Gallery in the Papal Palace in Vatican City; its vaults are decorated with scenes from biblical stories; Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

The walls in the Raphael Loggias are covered with paintings with ornamentation motifs, known as “grotesques”, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

The walls in the Raphael Loggias are covered with paintings with ornamentation motifs, known as “grotesques”, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia