The Library of the Hermitage, Aleksei Vasilievich Tyranov (1808-1859) Oil on canvas, 94 x 73.1 cm 1826. San Petersburgo, State Hermitage Museum

Built on the banks of the river Neva in St Petersburg, the Hermitage is both a palace and a museum. Peter the Great, who founded the city in 1703, established a first Winter Palace which was later replaced by the magnificent building we see today, constructed between 1754 and 1762 to the designs of the Italian architect, Rastrelli. Catherine the Great added the adjacent Small and Large (or Old) Hermitages to house the imperial art collections (1771-87). The use of the French word ermitage, meaning a place of solitude or retreat, reflected the private nature of these collections. The Hermitage Theatre, built in the 1780s, and the New Hermitage, constructed by Nicholas I in the mid-nineteenth century, completed the Museum complex.

The history of the Hermitage as an art museum begins in 1764 with Catherine's acquisition of the paintings collection of the Berlin merchant, Gotzkowsky. This was followed by the purchase of the Parisian Crozat collection, and those of the former Prime Ministers of Saxony and Great Britain, Count Brühl and Robert Walpole. In the nineteenth century the collections of the Empress Josephine Bonaparte and those of William II of the Netherlands were also acquired.

Meanwhile the library, and the archeological and numismatic collections were growing. In 1917 following the Russian Revolution, the Museum became a state institution and several private collections were nationalized, notably those of Impressionist and Avant-garde Parisian painting formed by Schukin and Morozov.

Today the Hermitage collections continue to grow and the Museum is engaged in an ambitious programme of expansion in St Petersburg, it has established several outposts in Russia and outside (Vyborg, Amsterdam and Ferrara, for example), as well as significant international research and exhibition collaborations.

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