Hermitage Art Museum
St Petersburg, Russia: Origins, History, Collection, Famous Paintings, Exhibitions.

Before visiting the Hermitage, see
Art Evaluation: How to Appreciate Art.

The Hermitage, St Petersburg


Origins & History
Permanent Collection
Dutch Painting 1600-1800
Italian Painting 1200-1800
Spanish Painting 1400-1800
Dutch/German Painting 1400-1600
Flemish Painting 1600-1800
English Painting 1400-1900
French Painting 1400-1800
German Painting 1700-1900
French Painting 1800-1920
Italian Sculpture 1400-1900
German Sculpture 1400-1600
French Sculpture 1750-1905

The Hermitage is one of the top art museums in Europe.

See: Russian Art.
See also: Russian Artists.

Tretyakov Gallery Moscow
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts


The Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, is the largest state gallery in Russia and one of the best art museums in the world. Reportedly consisting of three million works of art, the museum's collection of painting and sculpture is divided between six buildings, the main one being the Winter Palace - the former residence of the Russian Czars and Czarinas. Highlights of the Hermitage collection of Western art include masterpieces by many of the major European Old Masters, as well as the most famous painters of the modern era. In addition, the Hermitage houses a very wide range of antiquities exemplifying the traditions of Greek art, and other ancient cultures. It also houses an extensive holding of Oriental art, as exemplified by its collection of art from Central Asia. Russian highlights of the Hermitage include the Fabergé jewellery art collection: see Fabergé Easter Eggs for photographs.

British Museum
National Gallery London
Courtauld Gallery
British Royal Art Collection
Mauritshuis Art Museum
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
Antwerp Museum of Fine Arts
Musee Conde, Chantilly
Louvre Museum
Strasbourg Museum of Fine Arts

Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister Dresden
Gemaldegalerie SMPK, Berlin
Pinakothek Museum Munich
Kunsthistorisches Museum
Kunstmuseum Basel
Prado Museum Madrid
Uffizi Gallery Florence
Pitti Palace, Florence
Vatican Museums
Sistine Chapel Frescoes
Raphael Rooms (Vatican)
Doria Pamphilj Gallery
Capodimonte Museum, Naples

For news of any major art shows
at the Hermitage, see:
Art News Headlines.

Origins and History

The Hermitage began in 1764 as a private court museum for its founder, the reclusive Czarina Catherine the Great (1762-96, who dubbed it "my hermitage". She herself initiated the collection by purchasing more than 200 paintings from Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky in 1763. Further collections were acquired, including: The Brühl collection (Saxony), The Crozat collection (France) and the Horace Walpole art collection (England) [negotiated by Christie's], among others. Later Czars continued to add to the museums treasures, particularly works of Classical Antiquity and Renaissance art from collectors throughout Europe. In the late 1840s, Czar Nicholas I (ruled 1825-55) commissioned a building to house the burgeoning collection of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian antiquities. Called The New Hermitage, it was opened to the public in 1852. One might say, however, that the real spiritual father of the Hermitage is Tsar Peter the Great, who ordered the construction of the city of St Petersburg during the era of Petrine art (1686-1725), and thus opened a 'window onto the West.' Catherine the Great merely took advantage of the situation created by her illustrious predecessor.

Best Art Museums in America.

For a list of the finest works of
painting and sculpture, by the
world's most famous artists, see:
Greatest Paintings Ever
Oils, watercolours, mixed media
from 1300-present.
Greatest Sculptures Ever
Works in stone, bronze, wood
from 33,000 BCE-present.

For an outstanding collection of
Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Oriental
Judaica, crafts and artifacts,
see: Jewish Art Museum.


20th Century Expansion

Following the 1917 Revolution, all artworks in the possession of the Imperial Royal Family, together with many privately-owned collections of fine art, were proclaimed property of the Soviet state and transferred to the Hermitage and other museums. These included numerous Old Master paintings from the palaces around Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The process continued with the forcible acquisition of the private collections of Sergei Shchukin (1854-1936) and Ivan Morozov (1871-1921). On the other hand, during the years 1928-38, Stalin carelessly disposed of over 2,000 works of art, including priceless items like The Annunciation by Jan Van Eyck, Adoration of the Magi by Botticelli, Alba Madonna by Raphael, Venus with a Mirror by Titian, and numerous other works by Rembrandt, and sold a further 22 paintings to America.

However, after World War II the collection was significantly augmented by the seizure of 74 canvases of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting from private collections in Germany. Originally considered to be 'lost', these works were finally unveiled to the public in 1995.

Additional treasures, especially gold artifacts excavated by German archeologists from the Middle East at the turn of the century, were seized by the Soviet Red Army from museums in Berlin during 1945-6. Lastly, several Western artists, notably Henri Matisse, donated works of art to the USSR in the aftermath of the war.


Permanent Collection of the Hermitage

Here is a very brief outline of the works of art in the Hermitage Museum.

Dutch painting 17th and 18th Century

The Hermitage houses its collection of 17th Century Dutch painting in six rooms. They include 20 masterpieces by Rembrandt, as well as some of the greatest genre paintings by a range of Dutch Realist artists, such as Jan van Goyen and Jacob van Ruisdael (landscapes); Jan Steen, Gerald ter Borch, Pieter de Hooch, Adriaen, and Isaac van Ostade (genre paintings), Paulus Potter (animal paintings), Willem Claesz Heda and Willem Kalf (still life), as well as two portraits by Frans Hals.

A special display room is devoted to paintings by Rembrandt van Rijn, featuring some of his greatest portrait paintings and historical works, including: Flora (1634), The Descent from the Cross (1634), Abraham's Sacrifice (1635), David and Jonathan (1642); The Holy Family (1645), Portrait of an Old Man in Red (1652-4), and The Return of the Prodigal Son (1668-9).


Italian Painting 13th - 18th Century

The Hermitage has a wide collection of Italian art, lodged in 30 rooms in both the New and Old Hermitage. It features works by the great masters of the Italian High Renaissance, like Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Giorgione, Michelangelo Buonarroti and Titian.

There are two works by Leonardo (The Benois Madonna, 1478 and Madonna Litta, 1490); two by Raphael (Madonna Conestabile, 1502-1503 and The Holy Family 1506); several by Titian, including: The Flight into Egypt, Portrait of a Young Woman (c.1530), Danae (1550s), Christ Carrying the Cross (1560s), Madonna and Child with Mary Magdalene (1560s), The Penitent Magdalene (1560s) and St Sebastian (1570s).

Other Italian artists whose works are exhibited at The Hermitage include: the revolutionary Caravaggio; the fresco painter and landscape artist Annibale Carracci, leader of the classical Bolognese school; the Neapolitan decorative artist Luca Giordano; the flamboyant etcher Salvatore Rosa; the Novaro artist Gianmaria Crespi known as Il Cerano; the fresco genius Giambattista Tiepolo; and the view-painter Francesco Guardi.

Spanish Painting 15th - 18th Century

The Small Skylight Room and the adjoining Spanish Room in the New Hermitage house the collection's most valuable Spanish paintings. They include works by El Greco, Jose Ribera, Francisco de Zurbaran, Diego Velazquez, Bartolome Murillo and Francisco de Goya.

Among these masterpices are: The Apostles Peter and Paul (late 1580s) by El Greco; Nailing Christ to the Cross (1582), by F. Ribalta, the founder of the Spanish school of Dramatic Realism; Saints Sebastian and Irene (1682) by Jose Ribera; St Lawrence (1636), King St Fernando III (1630s) and The Childhood of the Virgin (late 1650s-1660s) by Francisco de Zurbaran; Luncheon (1630s) and Portrait of Count Olivares (c.1640) by Diego Velazquez. In addition, the Hermitage's Spanish collection includes 13 works by Bartolome Esteban Murillo including two Biblical epics - Isaac Blessing Jacob and Jacob's Ladder (1665-1670), The Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1665-1670) - and the genre painting Boy with a Dog (1650). The late-18th, early 19th century Spanish school is represented by Goya's Portrait of Antonia Zarate (1811).


Dutch & German Painting 15th - 16th Century

The Hermitage collection features some 100 works by artists of the Northern Renaissance in the Low Countries. They include: a diptych (1430s) by Robert Campin (Master of Flemalle), considered to be one of his masterpieces; St Luke Drawing the Virgin by Rogier van der Weyden; and The Healing of the Blind Man of Jericho (1531) by Lucas Van Leyden.

Among its examples of the German school of the Northern Renaissance, the museum also has a rare work (Portrait of a Young Man) by the talented German portraitist Ambrosius Holbein, elder brother of Hans Holbein, as well as five works by the celebrated German portrait painter Lucas Cranach the Elder, including his masterpieces Venus and Cupid (1509) and The Virgin and Child under an Apple Tree (c.1525), together with the beautiful Portrait of a Lady (1526).

16th-century portraiture includes the Portrait of Palatine Otheinrich (1540s) by the painter and engraver Georg Pencz, a pupil of Albrecht Durer, and a characteristic twin portrait, by Christoph Amberger.

See also our article: How To Appreciate Paintings.

Flemish Painting 17th - 18th Century

On the first floor of the New Hermitage is displayed more than 500 pictures by leading members of the Flemish school, including: Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, and Frans Snyders. Among the 20 masterpieces by Rubens are Perseus and Andromeda (1620-1621), Portrait of a Lady-in-Waiting to the Infanta Isabella (1623-1625), The Union of Earth and Water (Antwerp and the Scheldt) and Bacchus (1638-1640), as well as a further 20 or so drawings. Van Dyck is represented by over 24 works, nearly all portraits or self-portraits.

English Painting 15th - 18th Century

The Hermitage collection features over 450 items, including very rare works by masters of the English school.

The 17th/18th century portraitist, Sir Godfrey Kneller, is represented by Portrait of Grinling Gibbons, and Portrait of John Locke. Sir Joshua Reynolds, the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts, is represented by The Infant Hercules Strangling the Serpents (1786-1788) (a work commissioned by Russian Czarina Catherine II to symbolise young Russia's growing strength), The Continence of Scipio (1788-1789) and Cupid Untying the Zone of Venus (1788). Other English paintings include: Venus Comforting Cupid, Stung by a Bee, and Portrait of George, Prince of Wales, and Prince Frederick, Duke of York (1778) by Benjamin West, the second President of the Royal Academy; Portrait of a Lady in Blue (1780) by Thomas Gainsborough; The Iron Forge (1773) and Firework Display at the Castel Sant Angelo (The Girandola) (1778-1779) by Joseph Wright of Derby, to name but a few.

For similarities between English and Russian portraiture during this period, see: Russian Painting: 18th Century.


French Painting 15th - 18th Century

The Hermitage collection features twelve works each by the French Classicist Nicolas Poussin and the classical landscape artist Claude Lorrain, as well as works by Rococo painters Francois Boucher, Jean-Honore Fragonard and Jean-Antoine Watteau, the sentimental genre-painter Jean-Baptiste Greuze, and the still life master Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin.

Particular works include: Tancred and Erminia (1630s) and Landscape with Polyphemus (1640s) by Poussin; The Stolen Kiss, by Jean-Honore Fragonard; Savoyard with a Marmot (c.1716), An Embarrassing Proposal (c.1716), and Capricious Lady (about 1718) by Antoine Watteau; The Paralytic, by Jean-Baptiste Greuze; and Still Life with the Attributes of the Arts, by Jean-Baptiste Chardin.

German Painting 18th - 20th Century

The Hermitage collection of German paintings includes Perseus and Andromeda (1777-1783) and Self-portrait (1774-1783) by the Neoclassical artist Anton Raphael Mengs; twin portraits of the jeweller Diglinger and his wife (1721) by Antoine Pesne, the Prussian court painter; Portrait of a Man (1785) and Portrait of Queen Louisa (1798) by Johann Friederich Tischbein; and works by Angelica Kauffmann, the only female Academician of the London Royal Academy and the Accademia di San Luca in Rome.

19th-century German art at the museum features typical paintings by members of the Nazarenes movement including: F.Overbeck, P.Veit and the brothers Reipenhausen.

The Berlin School is better represented, with over 20 portraits of Russian individuals by artists like Franz Kruger, E.Hilderbrandt, and the Meyerheim family. The Munich School is featured in works by A.Adam, Burkel, G.Max and Wagenbauer.

The Hermitage also boasts nine paintings by the emotive Romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friederich, such as On Board a Sailing Ship and Harbour at Night.

French Painting 19th - 20th Century

In addition to works by the political classicist painter Jacques-Louis David, the great French academic artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and the leader of French Romanticism Eugene Delacroix, The Hermitage collection features excellent examples from the Barbizon School of plein landscape painting, by Theodore Rousseau, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Dupre, Daubigny and others, and seven masterpieces by Claude Monet, the founder of Impressionism, including: Lady in a Garden (1867), The Pond at Montgeron, and Waterloo Bridge (1903). There are six paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, such as his famous Portrait of the Actress Jeanne Samary (1878); three landscapes by Alfred Sisley; two cityscapes by Camille Pissarro; and several pastel drawings by the great Impressionist draughtsman Edgar Degas.

The Hermitage collection of French painting also includes outstanding works of Post-Impressionism by Paul Cezanne (eg. The Smoker, Young Girl at the Piano 1869, The Banks of the Marne 1888, Bathers 1890-91, Large Pine and Red Earth 1890-95, Still Life with Apples 1890, Mont Saint-Victoire 1900, Paul Gauguin (eg. Woman with a Fruit, Scenes from Tahitian Life 1895, Woman with a Black Hat 1908), and Vincent Van Gogh (eg. The Lilac Bush 1889, Memory of the Garden at Etten, and Thatched Cottages, 1890).

The high-point of the collection is the outstanding show of paintings by Fauvist Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, inventor of Cubism. Matisse's oeuvre is represented by 37 items, including The Red Room (1908), Family Portrait (1911), and the panels Dance and Music (both 1910). Picasso is represented in 31 items from his Blue Period to Cubism, such as The Absinthe Drinker (1901), The Visit (1902), Dance with Veils (1907), Three Women, Woman with a Fan (1908), to name but a few.



See also: Russian Sculpture (c.1740-1940)

Italian Sculpture 15th - 20th Century

Showpiece items from the Early Renaissance period include the marble relief Madonna and Child by Antonio Rossellino, one of the leading quattrocentist Florentine sculptors, and a quantity of characteristic terracotta sculpture produced by the Florentine Della Robbia family.

Other rare works of Italian sculpture at the Hermitage include: the marble reliefs by the Venetian sculptor Antonio Lombardo; Crouching Boy (1530-1534) by Michelangelo, a work originally commissioned for the Medici Chapel in Florence; The Ecstasy of St Theresa, St Constantine the Great by the Baroque master Gianlorenzo Bernini, as well as The Death of Adonis, by Giuseppe Mazzuoli, one of Bernini's leading pupils. The collection also features fifteen pieces by Antonio Canova, one of the most outstanding Italian sculptors of the late-18th, early-19th centuries, including Cupid and Psyche (1800), The Penitent Magdalene (1809), and Dancer (1811).

German Sculpture 15th - 16th Century

The earliest piece of German sculpture in the Hermitage is the huge terracotta Pieta (c.1410) by an anonymous Czech-Austrian sculptor.

Other masterpieces include The Head of St Anne by the genius wood-carver Tilman Riemenschneider, whose workshop produced a number of other works in the museum.

Other valuable items include several rare examples of small-scale 16th-century German bronze sculpture. These include: Cupid (1650) from the workshop of Hans Peyser, Standing Dog (1530-1550) by an anonymous artist from Nuremberg, and Striding Woman (1530-1540) by the Master of the Abundancia in Budapest.

French Sculpture

The Hermitage collection of French 3-D art includes pieces by A. Coysevox, Jean-Antoine Houdon, Claude Michel, Francois Girardon, Eugene Falconet, A. Barye, Jules Dalou, Auguste Rodin, Aristide Maillol and Henri Matisse.

Outstanding works in the collection include: Threatening Cupid (1757), Bather, and Winter (1771) by Eugene Falconet, creator of St Petersburg's magnificent Bronze Horseman, the tribute to Czar Peter the Great; the marble Voltaire (1781), busts of Count I.P.Saltykov (1782), and a little Lisette by Jean-Antoine Houdon; the reliefs Bacchanalia and The Death of St Cecilia by Claude Michel; animal figures by the Romantic sculptor A. Barye; the terracotta Peasant Woman with her Child (1873) and the marble sculpture Girl in a Shawl (1880-1890) by Jules Dalou.

The great French Victorian sculptor Auguste Rodin is represented in the Hermitage by a plaster study for The Age of Bronze (1877), and several marble groups such as Eternal Spring (1884), Romeo and Juliet (1905), and The Poet and the Muse (c.1905), to name but a few works. There are also six sculptures by famous Fauvist painter Henri Matisse, including Standing Nude, Portrait of Henriette and Venus and his last nude, Katya.

• For details of the development of painting and sculpture, see: History of Art.
• For more information about fine art, see: Homepage.

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