If you can’t get to St Petersburg, or decline to chance flying over Russian air-space, this exhibition extract at Melbourne’s NGV is some small consolation. You’d need a few weeks to skim the Hermitage collection; this one can be seen in a couple of hours. It is a very small slice of a gigantic art hoard, one of the greatest collections in the world (celebrating its 250th year). Of the cameos for example, none are from classical antiquity (those remain at home).
Here, in Melbourne, is no El Greco; no Gauguin; no Cranach; no Holbein; no Leonardo; no Raphael; no Caravaggio; no Caspar David Friedrich; no Tintoretto…and so on. But there is still a glorious cache of very interesting stuff. Apart from a selection reproduced below, we cite with particular admiration, Luncheon by Velasquez (thumb up!); Frans Snyders’ Hitchcock nightmare entitled Concert of Birds; a selection of beautiful filigreed toilette articles (we note the Ruskies drew the line at sending us any real jewels); Building of Noah’s Ark by Guido Reni; Portrait of a Young Woman by Titian; A saucy Cupid Untying the Zone of Venus by Reynolds; View of the Zwinger in Dresden by Bernardo Bellotto; Young Woman Trying on Earrings by Rembrandt; The Doctor’s Visit by Gabriel Metsu; Joseph Wright of Derby’s luminous Iron Forge Viewed from Without; and as follows:
We add, as random thoughts, that:
– Alexander Roslin’s portrait, and Jean-Antoine Houdon’s bust, of Catherine the Great, both make her appear more benign than the reality;
– There are some video loops in the exhibition, involving long tracking shots down sumptuous gilded Hermitage halls and a video tour of parts of the museum. The immensity and magnificence of buildings and the loot was obviously meant to shock and awe, as a gesture towards geopolitics more than aesthetics;
– Many portraits, from 15C in particular, portray children as little adults;
– On this limited selection (did we say the selection was severely limited?), Peter Paul Rubens wins on points.
The Varnished Culture recommends this exhibition.