The National Gallery of Victoria’s superb new winter exhibition, Masterpieces of the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great, officially opens tomorrow (Saturday 1 August) and we were fortunate to get a sneak peek. Come with us as we learn more about the woman behind one of the world’s greatest art collections.
Catherine came to power as a 33-year-old and was Empress of Russia from 1762 until her death in 1796. Well-connected in European art and literature circles of the time, she became a prolific art collector. Catherine saw herself as a new kind of ruler in an ‘Age of Enlightenment’ and fostered social change and outstanding cultural initiatives to during her reign. Held in high esteem by her subjects, she was given the moniker ‘Catherine The Great’ during her lifetime.
Throughout her life, Catherine acquired entire groups of works from renowned collections across Europe, representing the best offered for sale at the time. Her collection includes the best contemporary pieces from emerging 18th century artists, as well as works by the old masters, including Rembrandt, Rubens, Poussin, Clouet, Greuze, Van Dyck and Titian.
Normally housed in St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, this is the first time pieces from the collection have come to Australia.
The NGV have created a tribute to the rich treatments, interior furnishings, wallpapers and colour palette of the Hermitage’s own gallery spaces, including an immersive multimedia experience, evoking the museum’s opulent interior. You’ll even see a glimpse of Catherine’s boudoir, including a Chinese dressing table set made of silver filigree and precious gems and a mirror encrusted with over 400 diamonds.
Catherine has it all – sculptures, ornaments, jewellery and a full Sèvres dinner set for 60 guests. It’s a truly breathtaking display, that tells the story of how one woman created the first fine art museum in Russian history.
Masterpieces of the Hermitage The Legacy of Catherine the Great runs until Sunday 8 November 2015 at the NGV.