Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great

Frans Snyders, A concert of birds 1630–40Presented as part of the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series, over 400 works from the personal collection of Catherine the Great will travel in a Melbourne exclusive to the National Gallery of Victoria.

Gathered over a 34-year period, Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great represents the foundation of the Hermitage’s collection and includes outstanding works from artists such as Rembrandt, Velasquez, Rubens and Titian. Exemplary works from Van Dyck, Snyders, Teniers and Hals will also travel, collectively offering some of the finest Dutch and Flemish art to come to Australia.

“This exhibition celebrates the tenacity and vision of a true innovator in the arts,” says NGV Director, Tony Ellwood. “Catherine the Great’s inexhaustible passion for the arts, education and culture heralded a renaissance, leading to the formation of one of the world’s great museums, the Hermitage.”

“We are delighted that we have the good fortune of bringing one of the world’s most important collections to Australian audiences. The exhibition is a rare opportunity to be immersed in the world of Catherine the Great and her magnificent collection of art.”

Catherine the Great’s reign from 1762 to 1796 was known as the golden age and is remembered for her exceptional patronage of the arts, literature and education. Of German heritage, Catherine the Great was well connected in European art and literature circles.

She saw herself as a reine-philosophe (Philosopher Queen), a new kind of ruler in the Age of Enlightenment. Guided by Europe’s leading intellectuals, such as the French philosophers Voltaire and Diderot, she sought to modernise Russia’s economy, industry and government, drawing inspiration both from classical antiquity and contemporary cultural and political developments in Western Europe.

A prolific acquirer of art of the period, Catherine the Great’s collection reflects the finest contemporary art of the 18th century as well as the world’s best old masters of the time, with great works by French, German, Chinese, British, Dutch and Flemish artists. Notable in this exhibition are entire groups of works acquired from renowned collections from France, Germany and England representing the best collections offered for sale at the time.

The exhibition will feature four Rembrandts, including the notable Young woman with earrings, known as one of most intimate images Rembrandt ever created. The exhibition will also include 80 particularly fine drawings by artists including Poussin, Rubens, Clouet and Greuze.

Exquisite decorative arts will be brought to Australia for this exhibition, including 60 items from the Cameo Service of striking enamel-painted porcelain made by the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory in Paris. Commissioned by Catherine the Great for her former lover and military commander, Prince Grigory Potemkin, the dinner service features carved and painted imitation cameos, miniature works of art, based on motifs from the French Royal collection.

“These outstanding works from the personal collection of Catherine the Great represent the crown jewels of the Museum,” says Director of the Hermitage Museum, Mikhail Piotrovsky. “It was through the collection of these works and Catherine the Great’s exceptional vision that the Hermitage was founded.

“Today it is one of the most visited museums in the world. We are very pleased to be able to share these precious works with Australian audiences at the 250-year anniversary of this important institution.”

Catherine the Great’s love of education, art and culture inspired a period of enlightenment and architectural renaissance that saw the construction of the Hermitage complex. This construction includes six historic buildings along the Palace Embankment as well as the spectacular Winter Palace, a former residence of Russian emperors.

On view in the exhibition will be remarkable drawings by the Hermitage’s first architects Georg Velten and Giacomo Quarenghi, complemented by excellent painted views of the new Hermitage by Benjamin Patersen. These, along with Alexander Roslin’s majestic life-size portrait of Catherine, set the scene for a truly spectacular exhibition.

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to immerse themselves in Catherine the Great’s world evoking a sensory experience of a visit to the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The exhibition design will have rich treatments of architectural details, interior furnishings, wallpapers and a colour palette directly inspired by the Hermitage’s gallery spaces. Enveloping multimedia elements will give visitors a sense of being inside the Hermitage, evoking the lush and opulent interiors.

The Hermitage Museum was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been open to the public since 1852. With 3 million items in its holdings, the Hermitage is often regarded as having the finest collection of paintings in the world today. In 2014, The Hermitage celebrated its 250-year anniversary and opened a new wing of the museum with 800 rooms dedicated to art from the 19th to 21st centuries.

Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great will showcase treasures from one of the largest, oldest and most visited museums in the world,” says The Premier of Victoria, the Hon. Daniel Andrews MP. “Another major event for Melbourne, this exhibition will provide visitors with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see first-hand the extraordinary personal collection of Catherine the Great, drawn from the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.”

Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great will be at NGV International from 31 July – 8 November 2015 and will be presented alongside David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image as part of the 2015 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series. For more information, visit: www.ngv.vic.gov.au for details.

Image: Frans Snyders, Flemish 1579–1657 A concert of birds 1630–40, oil on canvas 136.5 ? 240.0 cm. The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg. Acquired from the collection of Sir Robert Walpole, 1779.

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