The State Hermitage in St. Petersburg ranks among the world’s most outstanding art museums. It is the largest museum in Russia: nowadays its vast and varied collections take up four buildings; its rooms if stretched in one line would measure many miles in total length, while they cover an area of 94240 square meters. Over 300 rooms are open to the public and contain a rich selection from the museum’s collections numbering about 2500000 items. The earliest exhibits Date from 500000-300000B.C., the latest are modern works. The collections possessed by the museum are distributed among its seven departments and form over forty permanent exhibitions. A common feature, characterising these exhibitions is the arrangement of items (all of them originals) according to countries and schools in a strictly chronological order, with a view to illustrating almost every stage of human culture and every great art epoch from the prehistoric times to the 20th century. Fabulous treasures are gathered in the Museum. It contains a rare collection of specimens of Soythian culture and art; objects of great aesthetic and historical value found in the burial mounds of the Altai; a most complete representation of exhibits characterising Russian culture and art. The Oriental collections of the Museum, ranking among the richest in the world, give an idea of the culture and art of the people of the Near and the Far East; India, China, Byzantium and Iran, are best represented; remarkable materials illustrative of the culture and art of the peoples inhabiting the Caucasus and Central Asia, also from part of the collections of the Department. The Museum numbers among its treasures monuments of ancient Greece and Rome and those from the Greek settlements on the North coast of the Black Sea. World famous is the collection of West-European paintings, covering a span of about seven hundred years, from the 13th to the 20th century, and comprising works by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, El Greco, Velazquez, Murillo; outstanding paintings by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Rubens; a remarkable group of French eighteenth century canvases, and Impressionist and Post Impressionist paintings. The collection illustrates the art of Italy, Spain, Holland, Belgium, Germany, France, Britain, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and some other countries. The West European Department of the Museum also includes a fine collection of European sculpture, containing works by Michelangelo, Canova, Falkonet, Houdon, Rodin and many other eminent masters; a marvellous collection of prints and drawings, numbering about 600 000 items; arms and armour; one of the world most outstanding collections of applied art, rich in tapestries, furniture, lace, ivories, porcelain metalwork, bronzes, silver, jewellery and enamels. An important part among the museum possessions is taken by the numismatic collection, which numbers over 1 000 000 items and is regarded as one of the largest in the world. A permanent exhibition of coins, orders and medals is open on the 2nd floor, rooms 398-400. There are auxiliary displays of coins forming part of exhibitions in other departments as well. A temporary exhibition of West-European medals is on view in the Raphael Loggias (1st floor, room 227). The seven departments of the museum, i.e. the Department of Russian Culture, Primitive culture, Culture and Art of the peoples of the Soviet East, Culture and Art of the Foreign Countries of the East, Culture and Art of the Antique World, West-European Art, Numismatics, together with the Education Department, the Conservation Department and the Library determine the administrative and academic structure of the museum. Within the past few decades the Hermitage has become one of the country’s most important centres of art study with a research staff of about 200 historians carrying out a vast program of research on art problems, and responsible for the preservation of the museum treasures, their conservation and restoration, and also for the scientific popularisation of art. The results of this varied work are published in the form of books, articles, periodicals, pamphlets, etc. Since 1949 a post-graduate school has been functioning at the Hermitage, specialists in art working here at their theses. An important aspect of the Museum’s research activities is the work of the annual archaeological expeditions organised by the Museum either independently or in co-operation with other Soviet scientific institutions. The most notable among them are: the Kazmir-Blur expedition making excavations of the city of Taishebaini dating from the 7th century B.C and situated on the Kazmir-Blur hill near Erevan; the Chersonese and Nymphaeum expeditions working on the sites of the ancient Greek towns in the Crimea, the Tadjik, Altai, Pskov and some other expeditions.The material discovered by them is of exceptional value, for not only does it throw fresh light on the problems of the history of the art and culture, but it also serves to enrich the Hermitage collections. Most helpful in the Museum’s research work is the Hermitage Library which contains about 400 000 books, pamphlets, periodicals, and is one of the largest among the art libraries in Russia. It was started in the 18th century and contains works on all branches of fine and applied arts. In addition to the Central Library each Department has at its disposal a subsidiary library of special literature. Of these, the library of the Hermitage exchanges books with a number of Russian and foreign museums. It is open to every student of art. All these are but a few aspects of the varied work carried out by the Museum and constantly achieving still greater scope and a few forms, meeting the growing cultural demands of the Russian people. Although visited now by thousands of people the Museum traditionally retains the old name of the Hermitage attached to it in the 1760’s and meaning «a hermit’s dwelling», or «a solitary place». The name is due to the fact that the Hermitage was founded as a palace museum accessible only to the nearest of the near to the court. A number of objects of which but a small part was later incorporated in the museum’s collections were acquired in different countries by Peter I. These were antique statues Marine landscapes, land a collection of Siberian ancient gold buckles. However, the foundation of the Hermitage is usually dated to the year 1764 when a collection of 225 pictures was bought by Catherine II from the Prussian merchant Gotzkowsky. A feature characteristic of the 18th century accusations was the purchase of large groups of paintings, sometimes of complete galleries, bought en blok at the sales in Western Europe.Count Bruhl’s collection acquired in Dresden in 1769, the Gallery of Crozat, bought in Paris in 1772 and the gallery of Lord Walpole acquired in London in 1779 were the most prominent among the acquisitions made in the 18th century. Together with numerous purchases of individual pictures, they supplied the museum with most outstanding canvases of the European school ,including those by Rembraandt,Rubens,Van Dyck and other eminent artists, and made the Hermitage rank among the finest art galleries of Europe. Works , commissioned by the Russian court from European painters also enriched the Picture gallery.By 1785 the Museum numbered 2658 paintings. Prints and drawings, cameos, coins and medals were likewise represented at the Hermitage. The acquisition of complete collections and of individual works of art was continued in the 19th century but on a more modest scale than during the previous period. Among the most notable acquisitions of the 19th century were: Mathew Malmaison Gallery of the Empress Josephine bought in 1814; the collection of the English banker Coesvelt consisting mainly of Spanish paintings, purchased in Amsterdam the same year; as well as the paintings from the Barrbarigo Palace inVenice which gave the Museum its best Titians. As to the individual works of art, the acquisition in 1865 of Leonardo da Vince’s «Madonna Litta»fromthe Duce of Litta collection and the purchase of Raphael’s «Virgin and Child» from the Conestebite family in 1870, were important landmarks in the growth of the treasures of the Hermitage. In 1885 the Hermitage received an important collection of objects of applied art of the 12th – 26th centuries, gathered by Basilevsky; , together with the Armoury transferred from Tsarskoe Selo, notably enriched the Museum with a new type of material The first decade of the 20th century witnessed the acquisition of a magnificent collection including 730 canvases by the Dutch and Flemish artists, which had been in the possession of the eminent Russian scientist Semenov-Tienshansky. Another most important acquisition was Leonardo da Vinci’s «Madonna and Child» purchased in 1914 from the family of the architect L.Benois. The Great October Revolution created highly favourable conditions for the further growth of the Museum collections and their systematic study. Since October 1917, due to the care taken by Soviet Government for the preservation of art treasures, the Museum was enriched with a great number of first-class works of art. Among these were the best pictures chosen by the Hermitage the nationalised private collections such as those formerly owned by the Yussupovs, the Shuvalovs, the Stroganovs; paintings transferred from the imperial palaces; art treasures, acquired by exchange from other museums within the country. The policy of planned distribution of art treasures among the museums carried out by the state, enabled the Hermitage not only to fill up many gaps and deficiencies by adding to its picture gallery Italian paintings of the 13th-15th centuries, works of the Netherlandish school, and of the French school of the 19th and 20th centuries but to form a museum free from private taste , and made it possible to arrange the collections systematically. The accumulation of materials which had not been represented in the museum in the pre-Revolutionary period ,led to the formation of new departments: the department of the history of culture and art of the primitive society, of the culture and art of the peoples of the East, and that of the history of Russian culture. He immense growth of the collections made it necessary to extend the exhibition space This is why the building of the Winter Palace was placed at the disposal of the Hermitage, the name «The State Hermitage» being now applied to the whole great museum thus formed.
The Hermitage is one of the very few on the Continent which contains a special section for English pictures. Portraiture, landscape painting and satire art in which England excelled , are represented by a number of first-class paintings and prints executed by the most outstanding artists of British School, mainly of the 18th century. A number of 17th-19th century works are on show too. There are also some notable specimens of applied art, among which is a fine group of objects in silver and Wedgwood potteryware . English paintings of the 17th century are extremely rare outside England.The Hermitage possesses several works of this period. These are: the Portrait of Oliver Cromwell by Robert Walker, two portraits by Peter Lely, of which the «Portrait of a Woman» reveals the artist’s sense of colour to great advantage; also the «Portrait of Grinling Gibbons» by Godfrey Kneller, to name only the most outstanding canvases. The collection has no paintings by William Hogarth, but some of his prints selected from a large and representative collection possessed by the Museum are usually on show. Joshua Reynolds is represented by four canvases all painted in the 1780-s. An interesting example of his late work is the «Infant Hercules strangling the Serpents», which is an allegory of the youthful Russia vanquishing her enemies. The picture was commissioned from Reynolds by Catherine II, and was brought to Russia in 1789. In 1891 two other canvases were sent by Reynolds to Russia. One was the «Continence of Scepic Africanus» , which , as well as the «Infant Hercules», reveals Reynolds’s conception of the grand style in art. The other was «Venus and Cupid»; presumably representing Lady Hamilton .This is one of the versions of the piсture entitled «The Snake in the Grass», owned by the National Gallery, London Reynolds’s «Girl at a window» is a copy with slight modifications, from Rembrandt’s canvas bearing the same title, and owned by the Dulwich Gallery. It may be regarded as an example of Reynolds’s study of the «old masters’» works. A fair idea of the British artists’ achievements in the field of portrait painting can be gained from the canvases by George Romney Thomas Gainsborough, John Opie, Henry Rdeburn, John Hoppner and John Russell, all marked by a vividness of expression and brilliance of execution typical of the British School of portrait painting in the days when it had achieved a national tradition. Highly important is Gainsborough’s superb «Portrait of the Duchess of Beaufort» painted in a loose and most effective manner characteristic of his art in the late 1770’s. For charm of expression and brilliance of execution, it ranks among the masterpieces of the Museum.The «Tron Forge» by Joseph Wright of Derby is an interesting example of a new subject in English18th century art: the theme of labour and industry, which merged in the days of the Industrial Revolution. The few paintings of importance belonging to the British school of the 19th century include a landscape ascribed to John Constable; the «Boats at a shore» by Richard Parkers Bonington; the «Portrait of an old woman» by David Wilki, three portraits by Thomas Lawrence and portraits by George Daive, of which the unfinished «Portrait of the Admiral Shishkov» is the most impressive. The collection was largely formed at the beginning of the 20th century, a great part of it deriving from the Khitrovo collection bequeathed to the Museum in 1916.
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