British Art Treasures from Russian Imperial Collections in the Hermitage

Saturday, October 5, 1996
Sunday, January 5, 1997

To coincide with the bicentenary of the death of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia from 1762 to 1796, the Center organized the first major traveling exhibition of British art drawn exclusively from the collections of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Both the exhibition and its national tour were made possible by Ford Motor Company. Additional support was provided by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

During Empress Catherine’s reign and that of her successors, Emperors Paul and Alexander, Russia was brought to a new peak of European power and influence. This exhibition examined the taste for British art and the westernization of Russian culture in the late eighteenth century. Among the approximately 160 objects selected for display were paintings and sculpture, silver, ceramics, furniture, clocks, jewelry, cameos, and engraved gems. The exhibition began with full-length portraits by van Dyck painted in England, as well as other pictures acquired by Empress Catherine in 1779 from the collection of former British Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole at Houghton Hall in Norfolk. Among other important purchases were two significant works by Joseph Wright of Derby, The Iron Forge from Without and La Girandola, and twenty pieces from the celebrated “Green Frong” dinner service, which Catherine commissioned from Josiah Wedgwood in the early 1770s. In addition to works by prominent silversmiths Augustine Courthauld, Paul de Lamerie, and Nicholas Sprimont, the display featured Charles Kandler’s huge “Jeningham” wine cooler, one of the most spectacular pieces of rococo silver in existence. The show concluded with important architectural drawings by Charles Cameron, the Scottish architect who established a flourishing practice in St. Petersburg toward the end of the eighteenth century.

Entrance Court, Yale Center for British Art, Photograph by Richard Caspole

British Art Treasures from Russian Imperial Collections in the Hermitage was curated by Brian Allen, Director of Studies at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in London. The 320-page fully illustrated catalogue, published by Yale University Press, contains an introduction by the distinguished art critic John Russell, essays by an international team of scholars from Britain in collaboration with curators from the Hermitage, and entries on the individual objects.

Yale Center for British Art: October 5, 1996–January 5, 1997
Toledo Museum of Art: February 13–May 11, 1997
Saint Louis Art Museum: June 27–September 7, 1997
The Hermitage: Fall 1997–1998