Foreign Writes apologizes for the long gap in posts.
There’s one more glorious gem in St. Petersburg’s crown – perhaps the best of all – the Hermitage collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces. In 2014 it moved from the main Hermitage palace across Palace Square, the vast parade ground, to its very own museum constructed within the former General Staff Building.IMG_1563
The museum itself is a work of art. Behind the neoclassical facade the four interior courtyards of the building have been glass-roofed. We walk through this light filled space and up a glass staircase to reach a plain wooden door that gives no hint of what it conceals, and makes all the more surprising the treasures behind it.
Room after room of paintings by every French master from the earliest days of impressionism to its successors. Not the few examples per artist that most major museums display, but several rooms devoted to each master. Our mouths are open. We’re speechless as we wander. So many of these wonders have never been exhibited in the West – many not even documented in ordinary art books.
Where did they come from?
Following the 1917 revolution, Lenin nationalized the collections of Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov, among the earliest collectors of the impressionists. Shchukin’s amazing collection of 258 paintings counted, among others,
16 of Gauguin as well as multiples of Cezanne, Van Gogh, Renoir and many others.
Among Ivanov’s 240 French works were 20 Cezannes, and numerous paintings by Pissarro, Degas, and more. These works formed the basis of the State Museum of New Western Art until, in 1948, Stalin ordered them put in storage, calling them decadent and bourgeois. They were not exhibited again until the 1960s.
The other major additions to the collection were the 74 paintings, exhibited for the first time in 1995, from among the 200,000 paintings taken as war reparations from Germany by the retreating Russian army, and hidden for 50 years. 56 of them come from the private collection of textile magnate Otto Krebs, and had never been exhibited. They include 15 Renoirs and works by Degas, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Delecroix, Matisse, Monet, Pissarro and Toulouse-Lautrec.
There’s much more to St. Petersburg. I haven’t even mentioned the music and dance. But it’s time to move on. I leave you with one last Russian bon-bon. I dare you to keep from smiling as you watch it. The locale is the vast plaza of Moscow University that overlooks the city. Enjoy.
Next up – Morocco.