Well, it’s not Winter anymore but the NGV exhibition of Masterpieces from the Hermitage is on show at NGV International until 8th November 2015.
I must confess that I wasn’t particularly anxious to see this exhibition and I came away from it feeling somewhat jaded. It evoked in me that ambivalence that Australian tourists tend to feel when you’re visiting one of the ‘big’ Art Galleries overseas. You’re all too conscious that you’re not likely to pass this way again soon so you mentally ‘tick-off’ the famous pictures that you’ve seen in books all your life. Eventually you feel deadened by the surfeit of masterpiecedom (another Rembrandt?) and you too quickly leave, thinking that you’ve “done” that gallery. Well, that’s a bit how I felt after the Hermitage exhibition without even leaving my own home town.
That said, the focus in this exhibition is not so much on the paintings (famous and masterpieces though they may be) but on the act of collecting itself. Catherine was a patron of the arts, but was not an artist herself. Her buyers sourced collections that in many cases had been collated by others and bought them as a job-lot, if that’s not too crude a term to use for such magnificence. The first room contains her collection of cameo gems, architectural drawings and her 797-piece Sevres dinner set. Thereafter the exhibition rooms are organized by country of origin: the Italian Room, the French Room, the Flemish Room. There is a beautiful website that follows the layout of the exhibition and features particular objects under the ‘Themes’ heading on the exhibition website: http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/masterpieces-from-the-hermitage/
My favourite pieces were found in the China room, most particularly the silver filigree work in (one of) her dressing table sets.
The label said that Catherine had ordered that diamonds and pearls be added to it. Were they real diamonds on it? It felt strange to catch sight of my own reflection in the mirror and to realize that Catherine would have seen herself in it too. Of course, this was just one of her dressing-table sets. Such wealth; such excess.
You can download Virginia Trioli’s commentary on the website. It’s not particularly closely tied in with the exhibition, focussing more on Catherine herself and her collecting habits. It’s an engaging podcast nonetheless.