With the possible exception of the Louvre, there is no museum in the world that rivals the Hermitage in size and quality. Its collection is so large that it would take years to view it in its entirety--at last count, there were nearly three million works on exhibit. The museum is especially strong in Italian Renaissance and French Impressionist paintings, as well as possessing outstanding collections of works by Rembrandt, Picasso, and Matisse. Visitors should also take advantage of its excellent Greek and Roman antiquities collection and its exhibits of Siberian and Central Asian art. Not least among the attractions of the Hermitage is the museum itself, with its fine interior decoration and architectural detail. As the Hermitage is so enormous, its collection so strong and diverse, and its interior so attractive in its own right, many visitors find that the very best way to tour the museum is to make several briefer visits rather than one frenetic and exhausting marathon tour. While there is much to be gained by simply allowing the curiosity of one's eye to take at least occasional precedence over a list of works and collections dictated by a guidebook or even a guide.
The origins of the Hermitage can be traced back to the private art collection of Peter the Great, who purchased numerous works during his travels abroad and later hung them in his residence. Catherine the Great expanded the collection considerably, and she and her successors built the Hermitage collection in large part with purchases of the private collections of the Western European aristocracy and monarchy. By the time Nicholas II ascended the throne in 1894, he was heir to the greatest collection of art in Europe.
After the Revolution of 1917, the museum was opened to the public, and its collection was further augmented by the addition of modern works taken from private collections. Today, the Hermitage has embarked on a major renovation effort. Its collection is in the process of being reorganized, and many of its works have for the first time become available for travelling exhibits outside of the country.
The Winter Palace
The present structure, completed in 1762 and designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, was commissioned by the Empress Elizabeth. Its opulent baroque facade, stretching two hundred meters, is a veritable cornucopia of pilasters, bays, and statuary. The palace served as the winter residence for every ruler of Russia since Peter III, who installed himself there along with his mistress, the Countess Vorontsova. After his wife Catherine the Great seized the throne, she redecorated and appropriated her husband's old quarters. While her son Nicholas I lived in a modest apartment there, his wife Alexandra commissioned the famously luxurious Malachite Room, later to be used as the meeting place for Kerensky's Provisional Government. Nicholas II had his quarters immediately above this room until 1904, when he moved from the increasingly discontented capital to Tsarskoe Selo. In July of 1917, the Provisional Government took up residence here, thus setting the stage for the October Revolution. After consolidating its power, the Bolshevik government transferred its capital to Moscow, and since that time the Winter Palace has been associated primarily with its role as the Hermitage Museum.
The Russian Museum
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