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  • Writer's pictureTim and Lindsey

An Overload of Art

Day 691

Imagine having over three million artefacts! That’s what the Hermitage Museum has. This, apparently, includes the largest collection of paintings in the world. Today we saw a tiny selection, and even this was an overload.

This art collection held in Six buildings including The Winter Palace and Hermitage Museums all started in 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great bought a large number of paintings, which initially was offered to Frederick II of Prussia. And the collection was undoubtedly impressive, including art by Raphael, Rubens, Anthony van Dyck and Rembrandt, including his Danae.

This incredible work of art was attacked in 1985 by a 48-year-old man. He sliced the canvas with a knife and then threw acid on it. Museum guards overpowered him and found explosives strapped to his body. He was later judged as insane. The restoration began immediately and took the best art specialists 12 years to complete.

How did the collection get to be so large? (More History?)

Catherine the Great was a prolific collector, and extremely wealthy. It seems that she heard about any prominent collections for sale, be it the Brühl's collection in Saxony, some in France and even 198 paintings once owned by Robert Walpole in London. The volume of artwork became so big that she needed to have a significant extension built to house it all.

The growth continued with future Tsars acquiring artwork by Titian, Leonardo and many more. And even after the 1917 Revolution, when the Imperial Hermitage and Winter Palace were proclaimed state museums and eventually merged, art collections were acquired from numerous private mansions. Many of the paintings we saw had the word ‘acquired’ on them. I wonder what this means? Purchased? Taken? Stolen?

In 1994, the Hermitage announced that the Red Army had stolen paintings from Germany during WWII and a year later held an exhibition called "Hidden Treasures Revealed", displaying 74 paintings which had been taken from private German collections including one by Degas that was believed to be lost, Renoir’s ‘In the Garden’ which had never been exhibited, paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Camille Pissarro, Edouard Manet and Pablo Picasso. What an incredible list of Impressionist artists!

OK, so what was our experience? It really was total sensory overload. The interior design of the Palace was opulent with columns, marble statues, gold leaf, grand staircases, painted ceilings, and magnificent chandeliers. On top of that, the rooms and corridors were packed with incredible works of art.

One of the show stoppers was the Peacock Clock, believed to be from the workshop of James Cox, a renowned English clockmaker. We watched a short video of the clock in action. This gold display includes a large peacock perched on a tree stump, at its base is an owl in a cage and a cockerel on the other side. When the clock is wound, on the hour, each bird moves, including the peacock spreading its plumage out and bowing its head and the cockerel crowing.

As well as many masterpieces, we also saw the Egyptian collection; my favourite artefact was a Sarcophagus of a Married Couple (520BC), not sure about a mummy of priest Petese (100BC).

By this time, we were in dire need of a break. After lunch, we walked across the vast Palace Square to the General Staff Building which faces the Winter Palace. This is what I was really looking forward to as this is where most of the 19th and 20th centuries paintings and sculptures were displayed – my favourite.

My heavy legs lightened as I wandered around, room by room of the great Impressionist painters. What is it that I like so much about this style? I think it is because I connect with it more, the café scenes, people relaxing in parks, or dancers getting ready for a performance. They seem familiar, rather than older works, often depicting religious, mythological or horrendous battle scenes. The colours are usually soft, muted and often there is a joyfulness about them.

What period of art do you like?

TIP: Purchase your tickets online; this means that you won’t need to queue with hordes of other tourists at the usual entrance of the Winter Palace. Instead you go directly to the Small Hermitage, and hopefully, like us, you will be greeted with no queue at all. The museum is closed on Mondays and free on the third Thursday each month. I reckon it will be jam-packed though!

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