The NGV has announced this year’s Melbourne Winter Masterpiece exhibition will be ‘Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great’.
From one great empire to another – last year we took in the Royal Collection of the Hapsburg’s of Spain in ‘Italian Masterieces from the Prado‘, this winter we look to Russia and the collection of Catherine the Great. The Hermitage holds one of the most important collections of European Art and one of the largest collections of art anywhere in the world.
This exhibition will highlight the collection as it was drawn together by Catherine the Great. She founded the Hermitage in 1764, but she had begun to collect pictures from the moment she ascended to the throne in 1762. The works coming out for this exhibition range in date from artists who would have been ‘old masters’ for Catherine, such as Titian and Rubens, to artists who worked at the Russian court in the second half of the eighteenth century, such as the Swedish painter Alexander Roslin, whose famous portrait of Catherine the Great will be part of the Winter Masterpieces exhibition. Catherine styled herself as reine-philosophe, a Philosopher Queen, and Roslin was one of many artists, writers, musicians and intellectuals who were drawn to the Catherine’s cosmopolitan court from across Europe. Her rule from 1762 until 1796 is considered a golden age in Russia.
Catherine set about collecting art with the ambition to amass a great collection worthy of a powerful ruler. She enlarged the collection rapidly with the purchase of a number of major collections of art. One of the most well-known is her purchase of the collection of Britain’s first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole. A large part of his collection of paintings by Van Dyck, Poussin, Rubens and Rembrandt was sold to Catherine (the failure of Britain to retain this collection was described by one commentator at the time as heralding ‘the decline of the empire of Great Britain‘). Several paintings from Walpole’s collection will be included in the Melbourne exhibition such as David Teniers II rather grandiose representation of a domestic interior ‘Kitchen’.
Like last year’s Prado show, the Hermitage exhibition will emphasise the peripatetic life of many European masterpieces, which often passed through the hands of several notable collectors and resided in a number of different countries. By the mid-eighteenth century works by artists such as Titian, Velazquez and Rubens were found across Europe and were sought after by collectors in many different countries. The NGV exhibition will be particularly strong in Dutch and Flemish painters, but it will also include art collected by Catherine from French, Swedish, Italian, Chinese, Spanish and Italian artists. Highlights include four Rembrandts from the Hermitage collection, drawings by Poussin, portraits by Anthony Van Dyck and Frans Hals. Lucky for us this year these paintings will make another journey. Indeed, for most (if not all) the art in the exhibition it will be the first time we have been able to see it in Australia.
Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great will be at NGV International from July 31–November 8 2015. Tickets are available for purchase via the NGV website.