Thursday, January 31, 2013

The State Hermitage

Государственный Эрмитаж, The Palace Embankment, Dvortsovaya plochad 2, Saint Petersburg - by the River Neva, near the beginning of Nevsky Prospekt, facing the Alexander Column. Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday from 10.30 till 18.00, Sunday from 10.30 till 17.00. Visited on Thursday, 31 January, 2013.

Wikipedia: "The State Hermitage [gəsʊˈdarstvʲɪnɨj ɪrmʲɪˈtaʂ] is a museum of art and culture in Saint Petersburg, Russia. One of the largest and oldest museums in the world, it was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been open to the public since 1852. Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display, comprise nearly three million items, including the largest collection of paintings in the world. The collections occupy a large complex of six historic buildings along Palace Embankment, including the Winter Palace, a former residence of Russian emperors. Apart from them, the Menshikov Palace, Museum of Porcelain, Storage Facility at Staraya Derevnya and the eastern wing of the General Staff Building are also part of the museum. The museum has several exhibition centers abroad. The Hermitage is a federal state property. Since 1990, the director of the museum has been Mikhail Piotrovsky. Of six buildings of the main museum complex, four, named the Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage and New Hermitage, are partially open to the public. The other two are the Hermitage Theatre and the Reserve House."

I spent a day at the Hermitage - over seven hours, that is, almost for the entire duration of the opening hours. The people at the Finnish Institute had advised me to buy a ticket in advance online to avoid queues, which I did. As I arrived among the first ones the queues were not that long anyway, but it could very well have been otherwise. The ticket offices are efficient.

I smiled when I saw the sign to the "little" garderobe - for 1400! There was three times that much room in the big garderobe. The next time I visit the Hermitage in winter I must remember to take indoor shoes. The rooms are warm, and you spend the whole day walking. Also next time I won't wear a jacket. A single shirt is enough. And perhaps a light backpack. During the day I took two coffee breaks at the Hermitage Café. There are several cafés, and one of them is especially good. There are also many bookstores, and one of them is clearly the best.

I had prepared in advance by studying a good compact guide:

The State Hermitage Guide. Compiled  by Tatyana Mamayenko. Edited by Yelena Dianova and Olga Fesoseyenko. Edited by the Organizing Committee: Mikhail Piotrovsky, Georgy Vilinbakhov, Vladimir Matveyev, and Yevgeny Fiodorov. Texts by 48 experts. Saint Petersburg: The State Hermitage Museum, 2000.

I would have made some purchases at the bookstores, but closing time came too soon. Afterwards, I have been studying the website which has a comprehensive digital collection. ("Welcome to the Digital Collection, the new virtual gallery of high-resolution artwork images from the State Hermitage Museum.") It is good for fact-checking but the images do not convey the aesthetic impact of the originals. Maybe it's intentional, but the visual quality of the artworks on the website is underwhelming.

In the Russian language, the floors are called the first, the second, and the third floor, which is also the way we say it in Finnish. In the English language they are called the ground floor, the first floor, and the second floor, which is confusing at first.

The place is huge but reasonably easy to navigate. The staff is big, knowledgeable and helpful. There are intelligent senior people guarding the treasures in a benign atmosphere.

The key to the navigation is to be aware of the room numbers at all times. Room 100 (Ancient Egypt) is a good starting point on the first floor.  Room 202 (Medieval Italy) is good for starting the exploration of the second floor, and room 325 (French 19th century - room 326 which would normally be the starting point was closed today) on the third floor.

I like the Russian way of celebrating art in the country's finest palaces. There were many school classes and guided tours there all day long. When I entered the Renoir room it was empty. The next moment there were two big groups with guides there, and when I left, it was empty again. The rooms are so vast that they don't feel cramped even when they are full with people.

The sense of history is powerful. When I looked out of the window of the third floor of the Winter Palace towards the magnificent Dvortsovaya Square I was thinking about Eisenstein and how he staged the storming of the Winter Palace in his film October. Now the Winter Palace is being stormed daily by art lovers of the world.

I hadn't visited the Hermitage in 40 years, and then it was just a couple of hours on a conducted tour. It was a bit like Alexander Sokurov's movie The Russian Ark, yet not, however, like the breaking of the record of how fast one can run through the Louvre in Godard's Bande à part.

I managed to scan half of the collections on display, with moments of reflection every now and then. The Hermitage is a place to visit many times.

My complete listing of the rooms which I managed to visit this time is beyond the jump break.

Some of my favourites included: 
1. Matisse: in three rooms, with a fine wit of observation and a bold sense of colour.
2. Three skylight rooms with Spanish and Italian masters (a favourite: Palma: Apostles at the Virgin's Tomb - looks magnificent in this room)
3. The Hermitage is the place to go for those who love the four big R's: Rubens, Rembrandt, Renoir, Rodin. Favourites: Rembrandt: The Return of the Prodigal Son, Renoir: Dans le jardin, and Rodin: Le Poète et la Muse.
4. Much of the art of ancient Greece survives as duplicates made in ancient Rome - the Hermitage provides an epic survey into those centuries. The collection of the coins with images of the emperors is touching, and a reminder of the words of the Christ: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's". There is also literally a coin with the image of Julius Caesar in the collection.
5. Towards the end of the visit I saw The Black Square by Kazimir Malevich. It was like a shot of vodka after a heavy dinner with many courses. We were perfect strangers watching it with a jolt, and we all started to smile and laugh. In the previous room we had seen busts by Bourdelle (Beethoven, etc.).

I also smiled at the hedonistic bias in some of the rooms (245, 331). Tolstoy would have disapproved of such art.

In rooms 323-325 I detected possible roots for some of the historical quality paintings of the Finns Edelfelt and the teenage Schjerfbeck. They had studied the French academic masters closely.

The quality of presentation is world class, of course. From this viewpoint my favourite rooms are the skylight rooms and the halls with reliefs and sculptures. The sum is bigger than the parts even when the parts are as magnificent as this. Some rooms with Dutch masters are dimly lit; perhaps there is a reason for this.

Since the digital transition I have become more sensitive to seeing art, also in museums. Seeing a painting covered with reflecting glass is like making love with an ill-fitting condom. There is not much annoyingly reflecting glass in the Hermitage; the worst instance is Picasso's Two Sisters trapped in a glass booth like Eichmann in Jerusalem. As a rule at the Hermitage one can admire the naked surface or the work protected by non-reflecting glass.


FIRST FLOOR (Russian numbering of floors)
100 Ancient Egypt
101 Ancient Rome
102 Ancient Rome
106 Ancient Rome
128 Ancient Rome
129 Ancient Rome
130 Ancient Italy
131 Ancient Italy
107 Roman statues
108 Greece
109 Greece
110 Ancient Rome
111 Archaic Greece, ancient Cyprus, Olbia
112 Greco-Roman
113 Greco-Roman
114 Greco-Roman
115 The Black Sea
116 The Black Sea, Kul-Uba, the Bospor
117 The Black Sea
121 Hellenistic period
127 Ancient Rome (a favourite: a collection of coins of the emperors - Julius Caesar, Marcus Antonius, Augustus... )

206 hall
207 Italy: Ugolino, Gerini, Foppa
208 Italy: Lippi
209 Fra Angelico
210 Italy
211 Italy
212 Italy
213 Botticelli
214 Leonardo
215 Correggio
216 Pontormo
224 Italy
225 Italy
226 Italy
223 Tintoretto
222 Italy
221 Tizian
220 Lotto
219 Paris Bordon
218 Italy
217 Veronese, Bassano
227 Applied arts
239 Spanish skylight room: Zurbaran, Murillo, Goya, Velázquez
238 Italian skylight room: Tiepolo, Batoni
237 Italian skylight room: Palma: Apostles at the Virgin's Tomb, Tintoretto, Caravaggio
229 Italy
230 Michelangelo (statue: A Crouching Boy), Rafael
231 Carracci
232 Fetti, Strozzi, Bernini
233 Castiglione, Magnasto
234 Vassaro, Solimena
235 Crespi, Tonini
236 Carlevarijs
240 El Greco
244 Books
243 Armours
241 Statues
245 Snyders, Vos, Wildens (hunting, culinarism: Snyders: The Fish Market)
246 Van Dyck room
247 Rubens room
248 Dutch masters
249 Dutch masters
250 Dutch masters
251 Dutch masters
252 Dutch masters
254 Rembrandt room (a favourite: The Return of the Prodigal Son)
253 Dutch masters

325 Delaroche, Tissot, Vernet, Fradkin
324 Béranger, Bouver, Cabanel, Flament
323 Gerome, Corot, Théodore Rousseau, Jules Dalou
322 Fromentin, Delacroix, Bonnat, Troyon, Millet (a favourite: Troyon: On the Way to the Market)
321 Renoir room (a favourite: Dans le jardin - the young couple of lovers)
320 Manet, Degas, Fantin-Latour, Courbet
319 Monet room, Sisley (a favourite: Villeneuve-la-Garenne on the Seine), Pissarro (a favourite: Boulevard Montmartre), Rodin
318 Cézanne room + Rodin: Le Poète et la Muse [Cézanne's Woman Holding a Fruit was on loan in Amsterdam] [Rodin's Eternal Spring was on loan]

314 Gérard
332 Gérard, Lefèvre, Delaroche, Ingres, David, Boilly
331 Gérôme (Bassin au harem), Vernet, Regnault, P.-N. Guérin (an anti-Tolstoy room: hedonistic art)
330 Winterhalter

317 Van Gogh room (a favourite: Buisson)
316 Gauguin room (a favourite: Pastorales Tahitiennes)
343 Bonnard, Denis, Matisse
344 Matisse room (Danse, Music, La Chambre rouge)
345 Matisse room (Portrait de la famille du peintre)
346 Derain, Vlaminck, Vallotton
347 Derain (a favourite: Martigues), Van Dongen, Vlaminck
348 Picasso room (a favourite: Deux sœurs - blue period - in a glass cage) [famous works of Picasso's blue period were on loan]
349 Picasso room (cubist, ceramic)
350 Douanier Rousseau, Marquet, Utrillo, Léger, Dufy, Rouault, Matisse, Soutine
333 Bourdelle: Beethoven and other statues
334 Malevich: The Black Square, Kandinsky
335 Emilio Greco room
336 Messina, Manzo
337 Italy

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