'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' opens at the National Gallery of Victoria

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'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' opens at the National Gallery of Victoria
Peter Paul Rubens and workshop, The Adoration of the Magi (c. 1620). Oil on canvas, 235.0 х 277.5 cm. The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. № ГЭ-494). Acquired from the collection of Dufresne, Amsterdam, 1770.

MELBOURNE.- Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great showcases one of the world’s greatest art collections. Featuring works by artists including Rembrandt, Rubens, Velázquez and Van Dyck, the exhibition offers more than 400 outstanding works including one of the finest groups of Dutch and Flemish art to come to Australia.

The Premier of Victoria, the Hon. Daniel Andrews MP said, ‘Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great showcases treasures from one of the largest, oldest and most visited museums in the world. Another major event for Melbourne, this exhibition provides visitors with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see first-hand the extraordinary personal collection of Catherine the Great, drawn from the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.’

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, said, ‘This exhibition celebrates the tenacity and vision of a true innovator in the arts. Catherine the Great’s inexhaustible passion for the arts, education and culture heralded a renaissance, leading to the formation of one of the world’s great museums, the Hermitage.’

‘We are delighted that we have the good fortune of bringing one of the world’s most important collections to Australian audiences. Masterpieces from the Hermitage is a rare opportunity to be immersed in the world of Catherine the Great and her magnificent collection of art,’ Mr Ellwood said.

Catherine the Great’s reign from 1762 to 1796 was known as a golden age and is remembered for her exceptional patronage of the arts, literature and education. Of German heritage, Catherine the Great was well connected in European art and literature circles. She saw herself as a reine-philosophe (Philosopher Queen), a new kind of ruler in the Age of Enlightenment. Guided by Europe’s leading intellectuals, such as the French philosophers Voltaire and Diderot, she sought to modernise Russia’s economy, industry and government, drawing inspiration both from classical antiquity and contemporary cultural and political developments in Western Europe.

A prolific acquirer of art of the period, Catherine the Great’s collection reflects the finest contemporary art of the 18th century as well as the world’s best old masters of the time, with great works by French, German, Chinese, British, Dutch and Flemish artists. Notable in this exhibition are entire groups of works acquired from renowned collections from France, Germany and England representing the best collections offered for sale at the time. The exhibition features four Rembrandts, including the notable Young woman trying on earrings, known as one of most intimate images Rembrandt ever created. The exhibition also includes 80 particularly fine drawings by artists including Poussin, Rubens, Clouet and Greuze.

Exquisite decorative arts have come to Australia for the exhibition, including 60 items from the Cameo Service of striking enamel-painted porcelain made by the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory in Paris. Commissioned by Catherine the Great for her former lover and military commander, Prince Grigory Potemkin, the dinner service features carved and painted imitation cameos — miniature works of art — based on motifs from the French Royal collection.

Director of the Hermitage Museum, Mikhail Piotrovsky, said, ‘These outstanding works from the personal collection of Catherine the Great represent the crown jewels of the Museum. It was through the collection of these works and Catherine the Great’s exceptional vision that the Hermitage was founded. Today it is one of the most visited museums in the world. We are very pleased to be able to share these precious works with Australian audiences at the 250-year anniversary of this important institution.’

Visitors to the exhibition can immerse themselves in Catherine the Great’s world evoking a sensory experience of a visit to the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The exhibition design has rich treatments of architectural details, interior furnishings, wallpapers and a colour palette directly inspired by the Hermitage’s gallery spaces. Enveloping multimedia elements give visitors a sense of being inside the Hermitage, evoking the lush and opulent interiors. The foundations of the Hermitage Museum were laid in 1764 by Catherine the Great and the museum has been open to the general public since 1852. With 3 million items in its holdings, the Hermitage is often regarded as having the finest collection of paintings in the world today. In 2014, the Hermitage celebrated its 250-year anniversary and opened a new wing with 800 rooms dedicated to art from the 19th to 21st centuries.

Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great is organised by the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg in association with the National Gallery of Victoria and Art Exhibitions Australia. The exhibition is supported by the Australian Government International Exhibitions Insurance (AGIEI) Program. This program provides funding for the purchase of insurance for significant cultural exhibitions. Without AGIEI, the high cost of insuring significant cultural items would prohibit this major exhibition from touring to Australia. The NGV and AEA also acknowledge the support of Victorian Major Events Company and Mazda Australia for their assistance in realising this important exhibition.

Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great is at NGV International from 31 July – 8 November 2015 and it's presented alongside David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image as part of the 2015 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series.

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