|by Roger Webster and Jason Grant
It was a great moment in cultural history, the opening ceremonies of the Hermitage Amsterdam, the first independent satellite of the Russian State Museum, The Hermitage St. Petersburg. The new Museum sits on the banks of the Amstel River. HRH Queen Beatrix, HRH Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and HRH Princess Maxima of The Netherlands stood at the entrance to welcome Dmitry Medvedev, President of the Russian Federation, and his wife Svetlana.
The St. Petersburg Admiralty Band played a song of welcome and The Royal Dutch Marine band played a promenade as the dignitaries walked the 15-foot wide red carpet. A propos to the occasion, they also played “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky.
|Svetlana and President Dmitri Medvedev arrive.||Swetlana Datsenko.|
|Amsterdam Mayor Jeb Cohen and Queen Beatrix.||The St. Petersburg Admiralty Band Leader.|
|Participating in the opening ceremonies were Ronald Plasterk, Netherlands Minister of Education, Culture and Science; Aleksandr Avdejev, Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation and Jeb Cohen, Mayor of Amsterdam.
After welcoming remarks and a tour, the VIPs exited the building for a grand public celebration that drew hundreds to the bridges and banks of the Amstel.
Highlights of the event, which were televised on two gargantuan screens, included pianist Olga Khozianova, 13- and 16 year-old piano virtuosi Arthur and Lucas Jussen, as well as the premier of “Waterfront,” a ballet by Hans van Manen, principal choreographer of the Dutch National Ballet. It was a pas de deux danced by Larissa Lezhnina, a ballerina, born in St. Petersburg, currently a member of the Dutch National Ballet, and her partner, Kiev trained Alexander Zhembrovsky.
The Museum officially opened to the public the next day and remained opened for 31 hours.
|The Hermitage St. Petersburg is arguably the largest museum in the world and has a collection of over three million objects. It was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great. Today, the Museum occupies a complex of six huge, historic buildings, one of which was the Tsar’s Winter Palace.
From 1732 to 1917, the Winter Palace was the official residence of the Royal family. It was constructed on a monumental scale intended to reflect the might and power of Imperial Russia.
|Ernest W. Veen.||Mikhail Piotrovsky.|
|The Hermitage Amsterdam is the brainchild of Ernst Veen, who is the Director of the new Museum and Mikhail Piotrosky, Director of the Hermitage St. Petersburg. It has been created by a public/private initiative, which is unprecedented in the Netherlands. The two Directors have collaborated on Russian exhibitions for 15 years and have a close personal friendship. It is housed in the Amstelhof, a 17th century, classically proportioned former charitable nursing home for the elderly. The building, 107,000 square feet, is owned by the City and leased to the Museum for one euro a year.
Architect Hans van Heeswijk transformed the old nursing home into a state of the art museum. It has two wings each consisting of a large, light-filled gallery, smaller rooms on the side and bookstores. The central section of the building contains a reception hall, an old chapel, regents’ room, a study centre, the restaurant Neva, and the Hermitage for Children Center. The complex was renovated at a cost of over $55 million dollars.
|The premier exhibition is “At the Russian Court: Palace and Protocol in the 19th Century.”
In his welcoming remarks Veen said, “The opening is the culmination of nearly two decades of planning. It is also a continuation of more than 300 years of close ties between Amsterdam and St Petersburg, beginning with Tsar Peter the Great’s fabled residence in our city.”
Peter the Great visited Amsterdam in 1697 seeking inspiration for the city he wanted to build on the Baltic Sea. He returned to Russia with 220 Dutch paintings, which became the beginning of the Russian State collection. Russia has the greatest collection of Rembrandts outside of Holland.
Another tie between the two Cities was forged when King Willem II of the Netherlands married Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna, daughter of Tsar Paul I, born in St. Petersburg in 1795.
|A photograph of Tsar Nicholas II dressed for a 1903 Winter Palace costume ball as the 17th century Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich||Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna dressed for a 1903 Winter Palace costume ball as the 17th century Tsarina Maria Ilyinichna.|
|Clockwise from top left: Portrait of Emperor Nicholas I; Tsar Alexander III; Tsar Nicholas II by Ilja Repin; A 1911 Portrait of Alexei Nikolaevich with sketches of his sisters by M.V. Roendaltsov. Alexei, the son of Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra, was the heir to the throne. He was a hemophiliac.|
|Fan with portraits of Tsar Alexander III and children.||Dress by Charles Worth of Paris for Maria Fyodorova 1880-1890.|
|At the Russian Court required 45 Hermitage curators 15 years to assemble the 2000-pieces on view. It is a scholarly exploration of the opulent culture, elaborate social hierarchy and richly layered traditions of the Tsarist court at its height. It’s a period that spanned the reigns of six tsars: Paul I (1796-1801), son of Catherine the Great; Alexander I (1801-1825); Nicholas I (1825-1855); Alexander II (1855-1881); Alexander III (1881-1894) and Nicholas II (1894-1917).
Nicholas II was married to Alix of Hesse, known as Alexandra. They had four daughters: Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. Succession was in question until they had a son, the Tsarevich Alexei. He was a hemophiliac, a fact the Royal family concealed from almost everyone. Nicholas was forced to abdicate in 1917. In July 1918 the entire family was executed in Yekaterinburg. In the 1990s the bodies were exhumed. DNA testing confirmed the identification. The Russian Orthodox Church canonized the family in 2000.
|Red coat Masquerade Costume of Dmitry Borisovich Golitsyn.||Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna's masquerade dress of Tsarina Maria Iljinitsjna worn for a 1903 costume ball. It is made of gold brocade, silver thread, sequins, artificial pearls, rhinestones, glass; gold brocade crown, decorated with artificial pearls; chamois shoes with brocade, silver thread, sequins and glass.|
|The exhibition, designed by Merkx+Girod Architects, is divided into two sections. For future shows, half the building will be closed preparing for the next presentation while the other half is open.
One wing of the Museum is devoted to the elaborate protocol of the nineteenth-century Russian court, with its public demonstrations of power and opulence calculated to impressed friends and intimidate foes.
The other wing depicts the grandeur of dinners, parties and balls hosted by the Tsars in the Winter Palace. It includes music and video projections from the film Russian Ark.
|Royal throne of the Tsars.||Throne and footstool of the Grand Master of The Maltese Order.|
|The showcases are filled with opulently beaded and embroidered ball gowns, court uniforms and costumes. Combined with music and revolving display units, the illusion is of a 19th century ball. Should anyone question how the clothes were preserved for more than a century, the answer: they were used to wrap and protect the royal porcelain during the chaos during the revolutionary years. Once the exhibition was planned, restorers in St. Petersburg worked on mending the beading and repairing the embroidery.
The exhibition includes magnificent court paintings by Franz Xaver Winterhalter and Ilya Repin, extraordinary items of furniture featuring the famous Romanov throne, awe-inspiring jewelry by makers such as Fabergé, vast and valuable dinner services and a gilt, grand piano, painted with human figures in pastoral scenes, a gift of Nicholas II to Alexandra.
|A 19-century portrait by George Dawe of Charlotte Lieven, née von Gaugreben. Czar Paul I appointed Charlotte governess to his daughters and youngest sons, Nikolai and Mikhail. He subsequently made her a countess as thanks for her services. When Nikolai became Tsar Nicolas I, he granted Charlotte the hereditary title of princess.||Black gauze umbrella with embroidery and appliqué.|
|19th century silver dressing gown and slippers, silk, brocatelle, leather, down.||Officer’s jacket for a young boy.|
|With the opening of Hermitage Amsterdam, the City becomes a bona fide contender for “the greatest art city in the world.” If the thought of boarding an international flight to visit Amsterdam makes you hesitate, there is a solution. “Open Skies.” It is a subsidiary of British Airways and is the first all-Business class airline, with prices that compete with tourist class on most other airlines.
Of the City’s many hotels one wonderful place to stay with excellent service is the newly refurbished and restored 200-room Park Hotel. It’s in walking distance of the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh and the Stedelijk museums, three State museums that cover five centuries of art.
|Rijksmuseum is dedicated to arts, crafts and history. In addition to a large collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age, it also has a substantial collection of Asian art. While the main building is being restored and expected to open in 2013, the newly re-stored Philips wing has an exhibition of the crème de la crème of the permanent collection.
The 104-year-old Stedelijk (A Modern Museum) is scheduled to re-open in the spring of 2010 following extensive renovations and expansion. It has one of the most important collections of modern and contemporary art and design including works by Karel Appel, Willem de Kooning, Andy Warhol, Matisse, Picasso and Kazmir Malevich.
The Van Gogh Museum is dedicated to the painter and everything connected to his life including his contemporaries. According to Nienke Bakker, a researcher on the Van Gogh Project, which will publish a six volume collection of 800 of his 920 letters due in October, “He had an all consuming passion to create art that would stand the test of time, which is why he wanted to be a portrait painter of normal, everyday people with some sort of universal meaning. The man who suffered so much, wanted to comfort people.”
The Hermitage is an example of how private enterprise can be more effective and efficient than government. The Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk, both State museums, are years behind in their re-opening. The Hermitage was completed on time, two years, and within budget. “Which is why,” says Veen, “our sponsors are standing by their five-year commitment despite the shaky economic times.”
|Pieter Roelofs, Curator of 17th century paintings at the Rijksmuseum.||Conrad Van Tiggelen, North American Director of The Netherlands Board of Tourism.|
|Nienke Bakker, one of the editors of “Vincent van Gogh’s –The Letters.”||Tonko Greve, Curator of the Museum Van Loon.|
|Whether it’s the courtyard of the Hermitage Amsterdam, City squares or private homes, because the City has been reclaimed from the water, the Dutch are proud of their greens and gardens. The weekend of June 19th-21st also marked the Open Garden Days, when 30 of the City’s canal homeowners opened their gardens to the public to benefit the Van Loon museum. This is one of the highlights of the summer season. Tonko Grever, Curator of the Van Loon said, “The gardens range from the informal and simple to the refined structure of a Japanese garden.”
|Views inside The Royal Palace, Amsterdam, Dam Square Refurbished 2009.|
|Fireworks are forbidden in Amsterdam. That didn’t stop the organizers of the opening festivities from ending with a dazzling display, rumored to have been a replication of the one Peter the Great saw when he first visited Amsterdam. As Mikhail Piotrovsky said, “The Hermitage Amsterdam will make it imperative for visitors to extend their stay in Amsterdam for one more day.”|
|Photographs by State Hermitage Museum St Petersburg, Herman van Heusden, Ruud van der Neut, Marcu Koppen, Aerofoto Schiphol B.V., Luuk Kramer, Roos Aldershoff, Evert Elzinga and Roger Webster.|