Masterpieces from The Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great, will showcase some 500 + works from their great collection of fine and decorative arts.
On show at the National Gallery of Victoria 31st July to 8th November 2015, the display includes a portrait of the lady herself by Swedish portrait painter Alexander Roslin, who detailed the shimmering qualities of the textiles as he insightfully recorded the sitter at the pinnacle of her reign.
Founded on the outstanding and vast personal collection of one of its most dynamic rulers, Empress and Autocrat of All the Russia’s Catherine II (1729 – 1796), the Russian collection of treasures has been added to over the centuries and in St Petersburg today The State Hermitage Museum contains many great paintings of history.
Russia is a country that emerged from its long hibernation and influence on its arts of the Asian steppes and Byzantium after 1703. This was when Czar Peter 1 made sweeping reforms, founding the city of St. Petersburg as the new Russian capital. It’s siting offered direct access to the Baltic Sea and gave impetus to Russia’s rise as a world power politically, culturally and geographically.
Catherine the Great’s efforts both diplomatic and through conquest, were part of the strategy to modernise Russia and at the forefront of the age of ‘Enlightenment’ in Russia, she contributed to it becoming recognized as one of the great powers.
She had to catch up with everyone else so went through Europe purchasing whole collections of paintings, taking them home to St Petersburg where she established the Hermitage Museum.
A formidable woman, the 1st Prime Minister of England Sir Robert Walpole gave up his renowned Houghton Hall collection at her bidding, as did Mme Marie-Therese Geoffrin of Paris.
In 1772 she gave up Charles Van Loo’s painting of a Sultan’s wife drinking coffee.
Catherine’s age had developed a taste for the exotic and oriental, and this work by Charles Van Loo (1705-1765) features the enigmatic Madame du Pompadour, King Louis XV of France’s royal mistress as ‘Sultana.
Madame du Pompadour was in charge of the King’s entertainments, and he enjoyed as did all the court, the private theatricals she arranged and often starred in herself. The painting by Van Loo was left to her brother Marquis de Marigny on her death and he said it was one of the few real likenesses of his beloved sister.
The work was painted by Van Loo as one of a pair of overdoors for the Grande Chambre, known as ‘Chambre á la turque’ in her delightful Rococo style Chateau of Bellevue (later demolished).
It had been built overlooking the village of Sevres, renowned for its porcelain making, which she also oversaw on behalf of the King, and which Catherine the Great also collected. Pieces from her 300+ dinner setting from Sevres, will also be on display.
The period of great learning that began with the advent of printing in the mid 15th century was by Catherine’s age, expanding its reach. It gained considerable impetus during the 17th century, revealed in the Portrait of a Scholar by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669) who was involved in the ‘printmaking’ trade himself.
I love this image … captured at a moment in time, the Scholar makes notes from a large handwritten folio. His costume tells us he is a wealthy man, the sheer quality of the textiles the very best money could buy and the rustic quality of the bench, a marvelous contrast. Rembrandt gives us a portrait where both light and shade merge imperceptibly and the contours are softened to unify the figure with its surrounding atmosphere, a characteristic of paintings at this time.
Collector David Roche AM (1930 – 2013) of Adelaide, who left his treasures to the people of South Australia in 2013, gathered wonderful Russian objects as part of his great collection, including a portrait of Catherine the Great exhibited by the David Roche Foundation House Museum.
The curator of the collection said “David Roche ‘s trips to Russia were always with artist Vladimir Tsurkan, antiques and art specialist Martyn Cook and usually another employee. Vlad was the consummate Russian speaking guide. He allowed us to discover Moscow and St Petersburg from top to bottom, front to back. From the ballet to the opera to house museums and state museums, every trip was packed full of surprises. Six trips later nothing has changed in regard to the surprise element that Mother Russia is. She constantly amazed and David Roche loved it and so accordingly his collection houses some 59 Russian objects from pottery to Faberge.”
Attributed to Johann Baptist Lampi the Elder (1751-1830), the late eighteenth century portrait of Catherine the Great (1729 – 1796) is an oil on canvas and is in a bespoke gilt-wood frame incorporating The Empress’ Imperial Coat of Arms. Its Provenance is impressive – 7th Count of Villagonzalo, Mariano Miguel Maldonado y Davalos (1851-1901), Spanish Ambassador in St Petersburg 1893-1897 and by descent to an important aristocratic collection in Spain.
Count Villagonzalo established a close friendship with Tsar Nicholas II during his period in office in St Petersburg. In 1899 he was awarded the Imperial Order of St Alexander Nevsky.
He is mentioned in the Tsar’s diaries. “Saturday 20th April, 1896. The day was marvellous and bright. The two of us went on a short walk and found masses of anemones. After breakfast I received Count Vollagonzalo, previously the Spanish representative, now the ambassador here.”
Another portrait in the collection is by Robert Jacques Francois Lefévre (1755-1830) who recorded Anatole Nikolaievich Demidoff (1813-1870) when he was 7 years of age in a red military uniform.
A very comfortable train ride ushers us into Madrid. On my travels 18 years ago I wasn’t so wild about Spains’ capital, so how would I feel about it now?
Well many years have passed, circumstances have changed, so it’s with fresh eyes that I look at Madrid.
What a difference time makes!
It’s funny how cities have a masculine or feminine feel to them, or at least that’s the feeling I get from certain places.
Take for example Italy. Rome is definitely male in my eyes, where Florence has an obviously feminine feel for me.
So to are my feelings for Spains’ two major cities Madrid and Barcelona.
Susan Graham Mezzo-Soprano will join with the Australian Chamber Orchestra for a French Celebration 11 – 22nd July, 2015. This intimate concert features select musicians from one of the world’s most lauded chamber ensembles, with Karen Gomyo on Violin, Ike See on Violin, Christopher Moore on Viola, Timo-Veikko Valve on Cello and Christian Hadland playing the piano in a selection of music at a time when beauty and innovation were important aspects of La Belle Époque. The beautiful era in Europe c1890 to 1914 was when France and its European neighbours were at peace, when art and design flourished and music became accessible to a wider audience than ever before.
Susan Graham has been rewarded by the French for her fine interpretation of French music. She was made Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur dans l’Odre des Arts et des Lettres, one of France’s most prestigious awards. Her ability to master a range of repertoire and formats admired, she has sung at inaugurations for Presidents, received a Grammy award, had a day named after her in her home state of Texas and been a delegate for UNESCO. She’s one of a kind and here in Australia her program consists of songs from La Belle Époque, when the invention of the gramophone meant that lovely melodies and romantic songs performed in the Salon could be recorded.
The New York Times says “Ms Graham is at her best in French, the tangy, nasal quality of which ideally complements her creamy tone.” She will be singing a repertoire from La Belle Époque that includes French composer Maurice Ravel’s settings of three poems by Stéphane Mallarmé, whom he considered to be France’s greatest Symbolist French poet, along with Ottorino Respighi’s setting of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s lyric poem, The Sunset.
During La Belle Époque inventions made life easier at all social levels, the cultural scene thrived, cabaret, cancan, and the cinema were born, and art took new forms with Impressionism and Art Nouveau. Art and architecture in the style of this era in other nations is also sometimes called “Belle Époque” style. From London to Paris to Vienna, Susan Graham sings in all the European capitals. Susan Graham says “My choices of repertoire have all been governed by whether or not the role and the music speak to me. If I don’t love it, I can’t commit myself to it. The main thread is musical integrity and if it has a musical lyricism and a singability. I’m a sucker for a nice melody – I love a good tune!”
Susan Graham will arrive in Australia fresh from a string of phenomenal successes, most recently having conquered that ‘Mount Everest’ of a role, Didon, in Berlioz’ Les Troyens at the San Francisco Opera. Her ‘expressive tone and heartfelt performances’ are renowned. Join A French Celebration – Susan Graham with the Australian Chamber Orchestra Newcastle City Hall, Saturday 11 July, 7.30pm, Sydney – City Recital Hall, Tuesday 14 – 18th July at 7pm, Melbourne Recital Centre, Monday 20 July, 8pm, Adelaide Town Hall, Tuesday 21 July, 8pm, Perth Concert Hall, Wednesday 22 July, 7.30pm – BOOKINGS
Empress Catherine the Great of Russia's fine collection of art works that founded the Hermitage museum St Petersburg is coming to Melbourne 31 July - 8 Nov 2015
Collector David Roche AM, who left his treasures to the people of South Australia, features many Russian treasures, including a portrait of Catherine the Great
Catherine the Great's delightful Chinese toilet service is one of the fine and decorative arts coming to NGV International, Melbourne 31 July - 8 November 2015
Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at the NGV will showcase 500 + works from The Hermitage Museum from 31 July - 8 November 2015
Poetry and music in the age of La Belle Époque come to life as America's favourite Mezzo-soprano celebrates all things French with Australian Chamber Orchestra