Little Bits of History

Hermitage Museum

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 5, 2014
Hermitage Museum

Hermitage Museum

February 5, 1852: The New Hermitage Museum opens to the public. Catherine the Great purchased paintings from Berlin art merchant Johann Gotzkowsky in 1764 – the beginning of her art collection. Gotzkowsky had gathered either 225 or 317 pieces of art (sources disagree) for Frederick II of Prussia who then refused to buy them. Catherine brought the works to St. Petersburg, Russia. She commissioned Yury Felton to build an extension to the Winter Palace which was completed in 1766. This became the Small Hermitage and housed the original collection. The building grew as the collections grew.

The Hermitage buildings became the home and workplace for almost 1,000 people, including the Imperial family. They became the extravagant showplace for the artworks accumulated as well as Russian relics and other displays of wealth. The complex also became the venue for grand balls, receptions, and ceremonies for many state events. Catherine continued to add to her museum buying up art from the heirs of prominent collectors. She added hundreds of pieces from around Europe via this method. She seemed to be especially taken with carved gems and cameos. During her life, she colleced 4,000 old masters’ paintings, 38,000 books, 10,000 engraved gems, 10,000 drawings, 16,000 coins and medals, and a natural history collection which filled two galleries.

In 1771, Felton was commissioned to build a great extension and the new building became known as the Large Hermitage. It was completed in 1787. Another wing was built from 1787 to 1792 to house ever more expanding collections, this time of Roman marbles. Catherine’s collections came to rival older established museums. She died in 1796. Alexander I was crowned in 1801 and continued to expand the art collections. Between 1840 and 1843, Vasily Stasov redesigned the interior of the Small Hermitage. Next, Leo von Klenze was asked to design a building for the public museum. Space was made by demolishing a building next to the Small Hermitage.

On this day, the New Hermitage opened. It was during this inaugural year that the Egyptian Collection at the Hermitage Museum was begun. After the October Revolution in 1917, the Imperial Hermitage and the Winter Palace were proclaimed to be state museums and merged. Even during this time the collections grew as art from other palaces came to this central location. Today, only a small part of the collection is on permanent display. There are over 3 million pieces held by the museum and it holds one of the largest painting collections in the world. There are close to 3 million visitors each year to this first ranked museum in Russia. It holds 13th place in world ranking (based on number of visitors).

I may be kindly, I am ordinarily gentle, but in my line of business I am obliged to will terribly what I will at all.

I shall be an autocrat: that’s my trade. And the good Lord will forgive me: that’s his.

If Russians knew how to read, they would write me off.

I praise loudly. I blame softly. – all from Catherine the Great

Also on this day: Articles of Confederation – In 1778, South Carolina became the first state to ratify the Articles.
Roger Williams – In 1631, Williams arrived in Boston.
Bombs Away – In  1958, a USAF plane drops a nuclear bomb in the waters off Savannah, Georgia.
Artiste – In 1919, United Artists studios were formed.

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