It was on this day in 1852 that the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg threw open its doors to the public for the very first time. The museum had grown from the collection of Catherine the Great who had, during the 34 years of her reign, fostered an image of herself as a patron of the arts which, in turn, portrayed her adoptive country (for she herself was Prussian-born) as an enlightened society, to rival any of those in Western Europe.
Catherine’s collection began when she purchased between two and three hundred or so paintings from Berlin-based merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. Gotzkowsky had originally amassed these paintings for Frederick II of Prussia, who was unable to proceed with the purchase due to heavy financial losses in the Seven Years War. Catherine seized on this chance to not only establish a personal collection of fine art, but perhaps also to demonstrate that, despite suffering equally heavy losses, the Russian coffers were still sufficient as to make the purchase.
Originally comprising mainly of Dutch and Flemish works, including some by Rembrandt and Rubens, the collection now consists of over 3 million items, only a small part of which are ever exhibited at one time. At the Hermitage Museum today, you can see works of art from Egyptian and Classical antiquity, and fine art by almost every major European artist you can think of.
One of our Long-Haul Itinerary Coordinators, James Horsfield, visited the Hermitage Museum for himself in 2014 and was suitably impressed. This is a fantastic activity for groups visiting St. Petersburg for art, history, language or simply to soak up the culture!