Hermitage (ĕrˌmētäzhˈ) [key], museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, one of the world's foremost houses of art, consisting of six buildings along the embankment of the Neva River. Its central building, the Winter Palace (erected 1754–62 by Czarina Elizabeth and the traditional winter residence of the czars), was damaged in an 1837 fire and reconstructed in the neoclassical style in the 19th cent. from the original pavilion palace. Its magnificant collection began as the private collection of Catherine II (Catherine the Great), which she purchased in 1764. Opened to the public in 1852, the museum contained only the imperial collections until 1917. There are now more than three million items in the Hermitage collection, including some 8,000 paintings of the Flemish, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Italian schools as well as superb modern works, with many by Rembrandt, Rubens, Picasso, and Matisse. The art collections also include the art of India, China, Egypt, pre-Columbian America, Greece, and Rome, as well as Scythian art from the Eurasian steppe. There are tapestries, ivories, and furniture. "The Heroic Past of the Russian People" includes the War Museum and a tribute to Peter the Great. Another part is devoted to the life and works of Pushkin. Russian art is exhibited separately in Mikhailovsky Palace, which was opened in 1898. In 2004 the Hermitage, which had previously inaugurated small foreign outlets in London and Las Vegas (in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum), opened a large branch in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, which exhibits loans from the parent institution.
See V. Suslov, ed., Great Art Treasures of the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (2 vol., 1995) and the catalog Hidden Treasures Revealed: Impressionist Masterpieces and Other Important French Paintings Preserved by the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (1995).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.