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Hermitage Collections in the 19th Century

From Palace Collection to Public Museum
After the death of Catherine II the Winter Palace became deserted. Emperor Paul I, sorrounded in his Mikhailovsky Castle with works of art, of which he was a great connoisseur, showed indifference to the creation of his unloved mother and ordered lord high-marshal "to keep it clean and to maintain order in it". During the reign of Paul I two pictures were purchased for the Hermitage collection: "The Union of Earth and Water" by Rubens and "The Farmers Children" by Fragonard. Alexander I, when ascending the throne, declared that he would rule "in accordance with the law and heart of the wise grandmother" and paid much attention to the Catherine's Hermitage. The Hermitage was awarded with the status of the palace museum and was opened for the public. The tastes of the Emperor, who preferred French art, reflected in his first purchases for the Museum - 10 canvases of the landscape painter Hubert Robert and 5 paintings by Joseph Verne. In 1814 the allied armies entered Paris. Alexander, who quite coldly treated the Bourbons , showed his consideration for the wife of Napoleon Josephine, visited her in the Malmaison palace, helped arrange the life of her children. As a sign of her gratitude Josephine presented Alexander with the most famous antique gem -The Gonzaga Cameo. After the death of the hostess of the Malmaison palace the Russian Emperor bought from her heirs the pictures that Josephine acquired in the course of Napoleonic wars. Thus the Hermitage came into possession of "The Holy Family" by Andrea del Sarto, two pictures of the same name "Descent from the Cross" by Rembrandt and by Rubens, a series of canvases by Claude Lorraine devoted to the time of the day, paintings by Dutch artists of the 17th century and 4 statues by Canova. Being in Amsterdam in 1814 Alexander I showed his perfect artistic taste when he inspected the collection of the English banker Kusvelt. He selected for the Hermitage wonderful paintings: "Portrait of Count Olivares" by Velazquez, "Youth of Madonna" by Zurbaran, "Stil-life" by Pereda.
As Catherine II before him her grandson commissioned the agents - diplomats and military men abroad - to purchase there works of art. Numerous purchases of the works of Russian artists allowed to open the Gallery of Russian school in the Hermitage Museum. Nicholas I was not a stranger to art and, as his wife proved, he "was fond of painting battle scenes". He enjoyed himself by adding figurines of the cavalry men to the landscapes of Dutch and Flemish artists. The catalogue of the pictures he possessed amounted to 666 canvases among which there were 650 paintings depicting people in the military uniform. Battle paintings particularly attracted Nicholas I. Concerning the picture by Horace Vernet "The Parade of the French Guards" Nicholas I ordered: "I will keep it in my study. I want to have the Emperor's Guards in front of my eyes because they could have defeated us". He meant the decisive moment of the battle at Borodino when Napoleon refused to sacrifice his Guards.
The collection was enlarged in Nicholas I reign on a grand scale. In1831 and 1834 a number of paintings by Spanish artists from the collections of of the minister of the King of Spain Carl IV Manuel Godoy and the ambassador of Spain in Saint Petersburg la Cadenna were purchased for the Hermitage which reflected interest in this country in Europe and Russia and completed the collection of Spanish school. The Russian diplomat Dmitry Tatishev, who died in Vienna in 1845, bequeathed his collections of weapon, sculpture, mozaik, paintings to the Hermitage Museum. Among them the most valuable were Spanish and Netherlandish pictures, diptychs of Jan van Eyck, paintings by Robert Campin and Jan Provoost, for example. This rich collection possessed a dactylotech - a box for gems, containing antique carved stones, works of the Renaissance and Neoclassicism artists in precious mounting. In 1850 paintings from the Barbarigo palace, where in the 16th century died Titian, were purchased in Venice. This collection was compiled in the 16th century. The Renaissance historian Carlo Ridolphi wrote excitingly about the paintings of Titian from this collection in his work "The Miracles of Art". Except for the "Danae" and the "Flight into Egypt" all pictures by Titian originate from this collection.
In 1852 the curator of the Picture Gallery of the Hermitage Feodor Bruni went to the Hague to participate in the auction of the collection of the King William II of Holland, where he bought "Columbine" by Francesco Melzi, "Descent from the Cross" by Jan Gossaert, "St.Luke Drawing the Portrait of the Virgin" by Rogier van der Weyden, "St.Lawrence" by Zurbaran. For his private collection Nicholas I purchased paintings of the German artist of the Romanticism Caspar David Friedrich. Canvases of Russian artists of the 19th century were included not only in his private collection. They also decorated the hall of Russian art in the New Hermitage.
For the first time after Catherine's reign the Archaeological Commission for the search of antiquities renewed its activities in Italy. In 1851 the Hermitage Museum was enriched with the collection of the Laval family that consisted of 54 statues and 330 vases. The same year the heirs of Pavel Demidov sold more than 50 statues to Nicholas I for the decoration of the New Hermitage. Among them were huge portraits of the Roman Emperors - Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Antoninus Pius.
The interest in the archaeological finds, characteristic of the epoch of the Historicism, was not alien to Nicholas I: in 1840 the Emperor visited Kerch, the ancient capital of Bosporan kingdom, and there he was presented with the golden mask and other precious objects from the tomb of the king Rhescuporis. In 1845 he received from the King of Naples a gift of finds unearthed in Naples in the presence of Nicholas. Passion for Egyptian civilisation, that flourished in Europe after the Egyptian campaign of Napoleonic army in 1798, resulted in purchasing of Egyptian statuettes from the collection of Countess Laval, of the statue of the goddess Sekhmet-Mut, brought by the Russian traveller Alexey Norov and kept in the Academy of Arts. In 1852 the son-in-law of Nicholas I Duke Maximilian Leuchtenberg presented to the Museum two huge stone sarcophagi and a sculptural portrait of the Amenemkheb family.
By the end of the reign of Nicholas I the "public Museum of the New Hermitage", that already possessed one of the world best collections of the West-European art, built up new collections - of Antiquities and of Oriental Art, the Gallery of Jewellery and the Gallery of Peter I, and became famous in Europe.

The Union of Earth and Water
(Antwerp and the Scheldt)

Rubens, Pieter Paul
Larger view

Ptolemy II and
Arsinoe II
(The Gonzaga Cameo)

Ancient Egypt
Larger view

Portrait of Count-Duke Olivares
Velazquez, Diego
Larger view

Portrait of the Emperor Balbinus
Ancient Rome
Larger view

On a Sailing Ship
Friedrich, Caspar David
Larger view

The Descent from the Cross
Rubens, Pieter Paul
Larger view

The Hermitage
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