The State Hermitage has a reputation – and a collection – rivalled by few museums. From prehistoric artefacts to 20th century masterpieces by Da Vinci, Byzantine coins to Gobelins tapestries, the collection in St Petersburg is one of the most prestigious of any modern institution. As part of its 250th anniversary celebrations, the museum is publishing a new hardcover title – The State Hermitage: Treasures from the Museum’s Collections. Featuring commentary from 100 Hermitage curators on selected items from the collection, we asked the book’s publisher Edward Booth-Clibborn to pick his own personal highlights from the title…
1. Catherine the Great commissioned her Green Frog Service from Wedgwood. They created 952 pieces, which showed 1,244 views of buildings and landscapes of various parts of England. It is an extraordinary historical record. Catherine used the Green Frog as her emblem because St Petersburg was built on a marsh. I think it’s rather beautiful.
2. This is one of many terracotta maquettes of great sculptures, which are in the Hermitage. Recently, the curator let me view in their store. Not always on display, they’re quite amazing and having once worked in terracotta myself; I have a great affinity to this work. My favourite is this maquette by Gianlorenzo Bernini of The Blessed Lodovica Albertoni.
3. I adore the simplicity of this subject matter. Painting trees is not particularly easy, as I have discovered myself, but this 1859 painting by Alexandre Calame titled Landscape with Oaks is stunning in its simplicity.
4. I am a great admirer of Voltaire. When I visited The Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, on Frederick the Great’s desk there was a miniature statue of Voltaire whom Frederick admired but also liked to look down on. Catherine the Great and Voltaire corresponded for 15 years, though the two never met. This sculpture of Voltaire is by Jean-Antoine Houdon and is a particularly striking representation of the philosopher.
5. Matisse’s simple painting showing the serenity of age.