Highlights in the Hermitage … St Petersburg
This was my eighth visit to St Petersburg, and as per any city, it is changing and evolving. The city has always had a romantic quality to it no matter when you travel. In February there is often a light dusting of snow on the ground and in June the sun never sets, which is when the White Nights Festival celebration begins.
I travelled at the latter end of February, which can involve either icy cold weather or brilliant sunshine. Thankfully I had brilliant sunshine, and the main areas such as Pushkin and Peterhof Palace were without the vast tourist numbers that they attract during the peak months. One of the highlights of my trip was a visit to one of the world’s leading art museums, the Hermitage.
Established in 1764 by Catherine the Great (six years after Cox & Kings was established), the museum is an understatement of vastness. There are three main floors split over five different buildings and it can capture even the most seasoned traveller with its treasures. Below are my favourite five items on display from a virtual treasure trove of art and antiquities.
My 5 favourite artworks in the Hermitage:
1. Frans Synders & Flemish Art
This is perhaps a surprising choice considering the options, but you cannot help but be captivated by his works, especially Concert of Birds and the Fruit Shop. Featuring an impressive array of exotic birds, you can almost hear the raucous noise the collection would produce. Meanwhile, the Fruit Shop bursts with colourful fruits and vegetables, some soon to be tumbling to the floor due to the appearance of a monkey.
2. The Raphael Loggias
Almost an exact copy of the loggias in the Vatican Palace, the loggias combine an excellent combination of architecture, sculpture and painting. There are 13 identical sections, each containing its own vault and showing various scenes from the bible from a Renaissance artist’s perspective.
3. Paul Gauguin
The majority of Gauguin’s works displayed are from his stay in French Polynesia. One of his most viewed works is the Conversation (Les Parau Parau). The Gauguin room is located in the recently-opened General Staff Building – additional entrance ticket required – which is located opposite the Hermitage on Palace Square. The museum features 19th-century paintings, Impressionist and Postmodernist art works from famous collections of Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov, as well as collections of Russian and European decorative and applied arts. The building also has exhibitions of modern European art, as well as the Museum of Guards Regiments and halls devoted to Carl Fabergé.
4. “Music” by Henri Matisse
Also located in the General Staff Building is the Matisse room. Most visitors to the museum are attracted to one of his seminal works, the Dance, but it was Music that intrigued me more. Made in 1910, without any preparatory sketches, its original home was the Moscow mansion of Sergei Shchukin, who also commissioned the Dance.
5.”The Three Graces” by Antonio Canova
Most people would have seen the second version of the Three Graces, which is located in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The version in the Hermitage is the original, made for Empress Josephine and given to the Hermitage by her grandson, Maximillian.
Overall, the Hermitage boasts over three million works within its walls, and it is easy to spend hours wandering the impressive halls and admiring the range of artworks displayed.
Not only spectacular on the inside, the building is just one of six located along the Palace Embankment, where there is also the Hermitage Theatre, the Summer Garden, the Winter Palace and more.
Cox & Kings offers an expert-led arts & culture tour, St Petersburg: Pictures & Palaces, as well as other tours to Russia, which include St Petersburg and a visit to the Hermitage.