In 1779, Russian Empress Catherine the Great purchased a collection of 200 paintings from one of England’s most important families. These works formed a core collection of what would become the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Now, English art lovers have a chance to view a selection of these works in their own country. Houghton Revisited, a showing of 70 paintings on loan from the Hermitage, will be at Houghton Hall in Norfolk from May 17th until September 29th.
The paintings were purchased by the Empress from the family of Britain’s first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole. Walpole, who was a prodigious collector, had Houghton Hall built in the 1720s. The historic home was passed through the Walpole family until the end of the eighteenth century and is now open to the public. The paintings on loan from the Hermitage collection have been painstakingly placed in their original positions in the State Rooms in an effort to recreate the home as it was during Robert Walpole’s time. This is the first time the collection has been reassembled in over 200 years. The collection includes paintings from masters including Rembrandt, Velazquez, Murillo, Poussin, and Rubens. Visitors can also view other art collected in the home, as well as the parks and gardens that surround the hall.
The Houghton Hall collection is just one of many that Catherine the Great brought to Russia. Catherine was a noted patron of the arts, and is considered responsible for Russia’s Golden Age. She began her art collection with the purchase of 90 Flemish and Dutch paintings that had been assembled for the King of Prussia. She soon began seeking out other collections from the heirs of prominent families throughout Europe, including the Houghton Collection. Her personal art collection soon outgrew the buildings that housed them, and The Hermitage was built as an addition to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Today, the Hermitage Museum includes many buildings on the Palace Embankment. The museum was opened to the public in 1852. The Hermitage is now one of the oldest and largest museums in the world, with a collection of over 3 million items, including the largest collection of paintings on earth.
Photo: Dennis Smith via Wikicommons