Homage to the Hermitage

The other day when it rained on us outside the Peter and Paul Fortress, I was briefly overtaken with traveler’s fatigue (and a touch perhaps of seasonal affective disorder).

“I just want to curl up on the couch with a warm dog and watch a movie,” I said over bliny.

Fortunately, the rain was brief that day, and didn’t slow us down too much. Today, our last in St. Petersburg, it shows no sign of letting up. Because I am a genius travel planner, today is also the day we had nothing to do but visit the Hermitage Museum.

image

The Hermitage, like the Louvre in Paris, is one of those museums you can’t possibly see all in a day, so don’t even bother. But this may be the first time I’ve visited a museum in any foreign city when it wasn’t just one of several tourist sites on the agenda.

The Hermitage also is Catherine the Great’s Winter Palace.

image

Marble sculptures and European paintings adorn rooms with chandeliered and painted ceilings and walls that paralyze you because you don’t know where to look. I can’t posibly look at everything in this one room, let alone five buildings! I confess that in many of these rooms, I prefer the ceilings decorated royally in blue and white, or blue and gold, or what look to me to be the yellows, greens and reds of Provence and the Mediterranean, to the dark-hued framed paintings. (I already confessed so in Italy, actually).

My attention returned to the art on display with a small Michelangelo crouched in the middle of a room surrounded by mythological frescoes from the School of Rafael that were removed from their buildings in Rome for some reason, and eventually brought here.

I love sculpture in general. Any sculpture depicting mythology or some kind of animal catches my eye. Rob likes those showing men engaged in combat. (A nice pair of fighting statues was a highlight of the Yusupov Palace.) Today I was captivated by a white marble child (perhaps cherub) slumped over a sea creature. “Dead child and fish” sat in the center of a room exhibiting colorful painted pottery.

Right now, we’re in a different wing, sitting in a fairly standard “art museum” style room  (pale blue walls, bland parquet floor) across from Renoir paintings of bouquets of roses. Man on a stair with a cigarette. Woman on a stair with a fan.

Behind the plush red bench where Rob and I are resting is a window to the murky day, where dark clouds hang over Palace Square, the asphalt and stone pavement black with rain, pedestrians moving through the square under umbrellas. I can’t think of the last time I used an umbrella. I would have bought an adorable one yesterday at Peterhof. It was clear and decorated with matryoshka dolls. But I’d never use it at home.

image

I sought out these galleries to see my old friends Van Gogh, Monet, Gauguin. My mom and I just saw a Gauguin exhibit in Seattle. Isn’t art amazing, that Paul Gauguin can paint in France and Tahiti, before the Internet was invented, and his work winds up in Seattle and St. Petersburg (among other places)?

image

I've also seen Picassos in Seattle, Paris, St. Petersburg, and other cities, I'm sure.

Having so much time at our disposal allows us to sit for a bit, cleanse our palate, so that we can view art with fresh eyes. And discover works by painters I don’t know so well. Moments ago, I stood entranced before Market in Normandy, a tall Theodore Rousseau painting of horses and cows being herded straight toward me, a small dog nipping at a cow on the right, sheep to the left.

image

Rather than show you photos of the paintings I describe, because I didn't take any, I give you Rob with one of the more famous Matisse works on display.

Also enchanting are Francois Flameng’s paintings, Reception at Compiegne, and Napoleon I and the King of Rome at St. Cloud in 1811. The detail on the women’s clothing is so exquisite I feel like I’m looking at the pages of Vogue. In the latter painting, I’m drawn to a man with a turban, sword and ballooning pants standing to one side beside a horse whose tail is mid-swoosh.

It’s handy that the art I find most “interesting” is in rooms with the least distracting decor. My preference is toward the impressionists and surrealists, and anything East Asian (all of which are on the Hermitage’s third floor). But that doesn’t mean that as we walk back downstairs to collect our coats and head out into the rain, I won’t appreciate the gilded walls, elegant staircase, golden columns, coat of arms and Rococo-ness of it all.