We saw Masterpieces from the Hermitage: the Legacy of Catherine the Great at the National Gallery. It was a Monday, and there were no queues at all. Inside there were a good number of visitors, but it wasn’t over-crowded.
Catherine the Great oversaw the “Golden Age” in Russia in the late 18th Century, when art, literature and philosophy were greatly prized. She was a German princess and had been in on the plot by the Imperial Guard to assassinate her husband, Peter III. She ruled from 1762 to 1796, but the final years of her rule were influenced by the French Revolution which lessened her liberal tendencies because of a concern of something similar in Russia. She had a passion for the arts and culture and arranged the acquisition of a massive number of paintings along with other decorative art works. She also undertook a massive building program.
This exhibition in a small way re-creates the atmosphere of the Hermitage with videos and images. I understand that the Hermitage is vast, so the images only give a glimpse of its extent and splendour. And this exhibition can be managed in about 2 hours – a far cry indeed from the Hermitage itself!
The artwork from the collection has been selected because it was acquired during Catherine’s time: Italian, Flemish, Dutch, German, British, Spanish and Portuguese (and probably others as well). The information about the exhibition states that the Dutch and Flemish pieces are the best exhibition of these to come to Australia. In addition there are some plans and drawings of various building works undertaken in Catherine’s era, as well as some glorious decorative pieces, including cameos and the Sèvres Cameo Service. This consists of 797 individual pieces designed to serve dinner, dessert and coffee to sixty people and was commissioned from the celebrated Sèvres porcelain works outside Paris. Not all 797 pieces were on display, but the detail and complexity of the decoration is stunning.
Not all the art was to my taste, but a lot of it was. This is an exhibition well worth visiting.