What are the facts the State Hermitage Museum is famous for? Let’s ask Elena!
Welcome to our weekly edition of the Matryoshka’s Diary. What places do you always visit when you come to a new country? Specially for those who are fond of Russian culture and arts our author, Elena, takes us on a little tour to the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, one of the world’s great encyclopedic museums.
Some historical facts about the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg
- The Winter Palace at the heart of this vast institution was the official residence of Russian emperors from the middle of the 18th century.
- Its first occupant, Catherine the Great (1729-96), was an exceptional patron of the arts who assembled what was then one of the largest and most important collections of paintings in the world. To house her acquisitions Catherine built the Small and then the Large Hermitage adjoining the Winter Palace.
- After the construction of the New Hermitage in the middle of the 19th century, the imperial art collections were opened to the public.
- After the revolutions of 1917, the buildings and the masterpieces they housed were nationalised, with the Winter Palace becoming the face of the Hermitage as a public art museum.
- In 2014, the Hermitage’s unsurpassed holdings of impressionist, post-impressionist and modern painting were relocated from the Winter Palace to the museum’s newest wing in the equally vast General Staff Building.
Sergey Shchukin and Ivan Morozov – two of the most brilliant collectors of their age
- They were members of Russia’s recently established merchant elite and made vast fortunes in the textile industry.
- Shchukin and Morozov both acquired superb examples of impressionist and post-impressionist art, and they were among the first collectors to appreciate the qualities of Matisse, Picasso and their contemporaries long before these artists had made their mark in Europe. Cezanne was the one painter who encompassed the divergent tastes of both collectors.
- Morozov was particularly fond of Denis and Bonnard, from whom he commissioned a series of large-scale decorations for his residence in 1907 and 1911. Similarly, in 1909 Shchukin commissioned Matisse to paint two enormous panels, Dance and Music, for the main staircase of his mansion, the Trubetskoy Palace. Upon their completion, Matisse remarked: ‘It took sheer nerve to paint in this manner and it took sheer nerve to buy it.’
- Shchukin’s collection was opened to the public in 1908. It became a site of pilgrim, for lovers of modern art and helped to educate and inspire an entire generation of Russian avant-garde artists, including Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov and Kazimir Malevich.
Following the Russian Revolution, the Shchukin and Morozov collections were nationalised by Lenin in 1918. In 1928 they were united to form the State Museum of Modern Western Art, housed in Morozov’s former mansion. In 1948 Stalin issued a secret order to liquidate the museum, and its contents were eventually divided between The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow and The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. For many years the paintings sent to the Hermitage remained in storage – Stalin’s order stressed their ‘reactionary bourgeois’ nature and their anti-realist tendency. Today the Shchukin and Morozov collections are regarded among the finest of their kind in the world.