Masters of modern art from the Hermitage

AGNSW Paul Gauguin, The month of Mary (Te avae no Maria), 1899 (detail)Monet, Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso and Gauguin, and their equally celebrated Russian contemporaries Kandinsky and Malevich – are amongst the 65 paintings travelling to the Art Gallery of New South Wales from the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg for the Sydney International Art Series exhibition.

Significant works on display include Monet’s Poppy field c1890; Cézanne’s Great pine near Aix, 1895/97; Picasso’s Table in a Cafe, 1912; Gauguin’s Month of Mary 1899; Matisse’s Nymph and Satyr 1908; Kandinsky’s Landscape near Dünaberg 1913 and Malevich’s Black Square c.1932 – all of which are from the Hermitage’s illustrious modern collection.

The Hermitage State Art Museum director, Professor Mikhail Piotrovsky, said every Hermitage exhibition has charm and meaning which lie in that it says as much about the museum overall as it does about the particular slice of cultural history that is its subject.

“The Hermitage continues to create its own map of modern art, art which is in fact an inseparable part of its tradition, part of its DNA,” said Piotrovsky. “And there is nothing unusual in us having a collection of modern art. For was not contemporary art collected by Catherine the Great, by Nicholas the First and by Alexander the Third?”

AGNSW senior curator of historical European art, Peter Raissis, said the work of the great agents of modernism in painting in the early 20th century represents one of the most striking progressive movements in the history of western art.

Raissis says the exhibition, developed and curated by the Hermitage’s Department of Western European Fine Art deputy director Dr Mikhail Dedinkin, and senior curator Dr Albert Kostenevich, explores the seismic shift from a realistic, imitative art based on the perceptual exploration of the external world, to a more subjectivist, abstract art concerned with inner worlds.

“The artists represented in the exhibition discovered that painting had its own autonomous meaning – that colour, line, shape, tone, spaciality, symmetry or asymmetry, and the urgency of pure expression could be themes in, and of, themselves,” said Raissis.

Masters of modern art from the Hermitage also tells the story of the Russian collectors Sergey Shchukin and Ivan Morozov, both wealthy businessmen who first championed the ground-breaking works of the French modern masters, and brought their work together with great passion.

Shchukin, one of the most visionary art collectors of the 20th century, assembled a singular collection of the most radical French art of the day, opening his residence to the public so local art students, such as Malevich, could study the major works of European painters.

Over two thirds of the works in the exhibition are from the collections of Shchukin and Morozov, and archival photographs show how some of the works were displayed by Shchukin in his Trubetskoy Palace in Moscow, where Russian art lovers, intellectuals and artists were welcomed.

“As Shchukin’s collection was on public display, it played a significant role in shaping the birth of the Russian avant-garde,” said Raissis.

An immersive video installation by Saskia Boddeke and famous British filmmaker Peter Greenaway is another highlight of the exhibition. Launched in Europe at the Fondation Louis Vuitton last year, the installation, restaged for AGNSW, engages visitors in an extraordinary dialogue between Shchukin and Matisse and highlights the impact of the works of Matisse on young Russian artists.

The exhibition concludes with works by the Russian artists Kandinsky and Malevich, who were not only highly receptive to the influence of modern French painting, but whose art was shaped by its radical possibilities.

The State Hermitage Museum is one of the greatest art museums in the world, revered as a treasury and refuge for art. Its collections feature the art and culture of Antiquity, Western Europe, Asian countries and Russia.

Highlights of the museum include works by the most famous European old masters — Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt and Rubens, and French paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries. The Hermitage’s decorative art collection is also one of the richest in the world.

The history of the Hermitage as a museum collection began in 1764 when Catherine the Great, one of the greatest collectors of all time, acquired some of the most significant art collections of her day. The Hermitage is now home to 17,000 paintings and approximately 620,000 drawings and prints; 12,000 sculptures; 350,000 works of applied art and 760,000 archaeological exhibits.

The museum complex occupies ten buildings, including the Winter Palace, which form a brilliant architectural ensemble on both sides of the Palace Square, including the renovated General Staff Building with its modern interiors which house the Hermitage’s French paintings of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Masters of modern art from the Hermitage
Art Gallery of New South Wales,
Exhibition: 13 October – 3 March 2019
Admission fees apply

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Paul Gauguin, The month of Mary (Te avae no Maria), 1899 (detail). The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg. Photo: © The State Hermitage Museum 2018, Vladimir Terebenin, Leonard Kheifets and Yuri Mololkovets