Thursday, November 9, 2017

Travel Notes 7 - The Hermitage

The Hermitage and Winter Palace

What is unusual about this art museum is that it is not only a musuem but a place of history and architectural interest in its own right, unlike the Louvre or the Uffizi or the NY Museum of Modern Art.  Here the Czar lived until he abdicated and where the Provisional Government had their meetings.  Kerensky even lived here after July 1917 as the leader of the government.  Unaware of what this looked like to the people of Petrograd or the Petrograd Soviet, Kerensky bedded down in a former Czar's bed chamber and had his office in another Czar's study.  His 'cabinet' met in the Malachite room - an ornate room of valuable green stone also favored by the 300 year old Romanov dynasty.

The Malachite Room - Winter Palace/Hermitage

The Provisional Government was later arrested in the Winter Palace in the early morning of November 7 by Soviet soldiers led by Anton-Ovseenko.  Perhaps for being just plain clueless, starting with the symbolism.  A 'failure of optics' and more...

The Russian government created a very large and powerful display in the Hermitage for the 100th Anniversary of the revolution.  It basically creates sympathy for the poor Romanovs and later, poor poor Kerensky and his government of suits and ties.  Pictures throughout the museum show the damage and looting of the royal suites, even in the bedroom of the Czarina.  But it did include some revolutionary posters, pictures of Lenin and Trotsky, satirical pamphlets of the day like Mockba and other revolutionary material, including an early draft of the 'Monument to the 3rd International.'  Also a funny magazine cover of Rasputin saying: "I overthrew him first!" and pointing at a little Nicolaus II. Lunacharsky took over the Winter Palace for the Soviet in order to preserve what was left after Nov. 7.  His cultural group took pictures of the damage.  He was the same person who started a 'Museum of Atheism and Religion' in the former Kazan Cathedral and had been part of Trotsky's organization prior to them joining the Bolsheviks.

HERMITAGE - Old Section

If you have seen the excellent film "Russian Ark", walking through the Hermitage is a little like being in that film again, as you recognize staircases, corridors and rooms.  That film featured a single tracking shot through the whole Winter Palace, lasting about an hour and half with hundreds of extras and just one very tired cameraman.  It was a bit surreal to say the least to walk these corridors after seeing that film  Deja vu induced by a film.  Where are the cameras!?

Rasputin and Little Nicky II

The Hermitage collection includes vast amounts of portraits of rich people and royalty from different countries - even in the Middle East.  It also contains much Christian religous painting and classical art.  Not my 'cup of tea' as they say, and perhaps not many other people's cut of tea, no matter how well painted. There are also large sections of archaic antiquities from Turkey, Egypt and other non-Western countries. None of these areas were well-populated by visitors. I did find some great paintings by Bruegel the Younger and Hieronymus Bosch and their followers Mandyn and Cleve, who described both a bloody hell and the forbidden Garden of Earthly Delights, which evidently includes lots of nudity and intimations of hetero-sexual sex .  There was a hilarious Rubens' painting of a vast, overweight nude Bacchus and his drunk cherubs.  Stalin actually told the staff of the Hermitage to return artistic material from Ukraine to the Ukrainian museums and they refused.  They were steeped in royalism at the time, so they were not going to listen to anyone.  The former director emigrated in 1918.

HERMITAGE - New Section

Across Palace Square is now another part of the Hermitage Museum, in the General Staff Building that lines the other side.  It has been refurbished so the open courtyards that are found in many buildings in St. Petersburg are covered over by glass, thus creating two vast open spaces - which seem to be for a museum still in the making.  Along the edges are what has been transferred from the Moscow Museum of Western Art and private collections, either bought by the Russian government during the 1920s and later, or collectivized or donated.  So yes, Communists actually care about art.   Many come from the |Morozov and Shchukin private collections.  Here are all the figures of Impressionism and some of post-impressionism - Gaugin, Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne and the usual suspects - and then people like Picasso, Rouault, Kandinsky, religious bible stories sketched by Chagall - basically another huge collection. A painting by Besson of miners is especially outstanding, opposite a fantastic shimmering picture by Hoffbauer of a high-society woman in a London nightclub.

The New Hermitage

One picture of Socialist realistic art was included and nothing by Russian Constructivists, but the point of this part of the collection is not Russian art.  However, I looked for the Museum of Avant-garde Art while in the Petrograd District and could not locate it, except in the remains of a damaged building.  So I don't even know if there is a collection of Socialist Realist or Constructivist art anywhere in Russia.  Certainly the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis has some of both.

Prior reviews of various art shows - the Museum of Russian Art (MORA), the Desert of Forbidden Art in Uzbekistan, Picasso, Frida Kahlo, the Tate, the Minneapolis Museum of Art, street art by Banksy, art crawls in Minneapolis, the Walker Art Center, all below.

Red Frog
November 9, 2017

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