Art Mobility between Museums in Europe

A case study of the Hermitage Amsterdam and the Guggenheim Bilbao

Master's Thesis, 2009
125 Pages, Grade: B (ECTS), 8 out of 10


Table of contents


Master Thesis Outline

Chapter One
1.1 Dutch cultural memory in St. Petersburg and reception of European cultural traditions
in St. Petersburg
1.2 History of Dutch art collecting tradition in the Hermitage
1.3 Dutch art collecting practices in the 20th century

Chapter Two
2.1 Development of the museum phenomenon as a forum of knowledge
2.2 Overview of the cultural policies in post-Soviet Russia
2.3. Overview of the cultural policies in the Netherlands
2.4 Dutch – Russian mutual cultural projects

Chapter Three
3.1 Cross-cultural transfers and new types of collection exchange
3.2 The “Hermitage Amsterdam” Exhibition Centre
3.3 The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Chapter Four
4.1 Mission and modern concepts of art museums in the 21st century
4.2 Museum network as a possible model of museums development in the 21st century: the “Bilbao effect”
4.3 The Hermitage Museum in the 21st century and the motives for the restoration of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
4.4 Digitalization of art collections in the context of globalization and hybrid cultural expressions


Annex 1

Annex 2


Beginning with the last decades of the 20th century it has been an unprecedented tendency to create outposts of big museums abroad. The opening of the Hermitage-Guggenheim Exhibition Centre in Las Vegas and the decision of creating a filial branch of the Louvre in Abu-Dhabi in 2012 can serve as an illustrative example of this phenomenon.

Framework of the study

The purpose of the present Master Thesis is to show that despite political, economic and linguistic diversities that exist between the Netherlands and Russia, strong cultural ties and cross-cultural dialogues have remained since the 18th century and are flourishing nowadays. I will demonstrate what has been done in practice in order to strengthen international cross-cultural bonds and to introduce foreign cultural heritage abroad in particular.

The aim of the Master Thesis is to study the examples of museum models in the 21st century illustrated by the case study of the Hermitage Amsterdam Complex and the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum “satellite” museums. Taking into account the importance and special significance of the latter, the choice of that particular case study seems rational and illustrative. I will present the motives and goals of “expansion” tendencies of large art museums in the Netherlands and in Spain. I will elaborate on difference in motives beyond the opening of museums’ outposts by Russian and by American museums in the European Union. What are the crucial steps the museum authorities tend to undertake in order to safeguard and promote the art Europe-wide?

One of the aims of the research is to demonstrate that art which has been broadly studied from divergent viewpoints of style, content, iconography, philosophy, and the social sciences, can also be approached as a function of economic and socio-political motives. I will point out how art mobility is connected to the present area of globalization. In my Master Thesis I will explore the following question:

“Can the creation of museum “satellites” abroad be seen as the future model of museums’ development?”

In order to address this question the present paper is structured around four chapters. In the beginning of the Master Thesis I explore the notion of European museum and important features of Russian and Dutch cultural policies. Further on, I narrow down my research of art mobility by using the case of museum “satellites” created by the Hermitage and Guggenheim networks. Finally, I describe main principles of museum expansion under the challenges of modern times in order to identify possible museum models.

Research method

The research is mainly based on use of the qualitative method in order to follow the origins and the development of the Dutch-Russian cross-cultural dialogue and to reveal its significance on the Russian cultural arena throughout the centuries. A qualitative literature research (primary and secondary sources) as well as in-depth semi-structured expert interviews with E.V.

M.C. and S.D.

and opening speeches by museum officials and art curators (Dr. M. P.) are integrated into the thesis. The interviews have allowed to get a better insight into the first-hand information of what is going on “behind the scenes” in the process of art mobility and museum cooperation.

I will study official European policy documents, treaties, acts and scholarly articles related to the preservation, financing and promotion of museum exhibitions on the national and international arenas (e.g.: subsidy programs, regulations, directives) available at the Cultural Portal of the European Union[1]. Art gathering principles implemented in the European and non-European states as well as contemporary national museum policies and attitudes towards the preservation and promotion of cultural heritage in the 20th and the 21st centuries will be studied.

Secondary data is also broadly analyzed in this study. Furthermore, the information materials such as brochures, wall charts and publications produced by the European Commission in the framework of the “European Agenda for Culture” are being discussed.

Primary sources:

- Member states’ ministries websites regarding documents on objectives of government cultural policy and the organization of the administration of culture;
- Documents regarding the financing and development of culture authored by the European Parliament, UNESCO, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the National Arts Councils;
- Relevant statistical analysis of the patterns of financing culture as well as the “Eurobarometer survey series”[2] on cultural values among Europeans;
- Other relevant research reports and experts’ reviews on the investigated issues.

Master Thesis Outline

Art Mobility between Museums in Europe:

A case study of the Hermitage Amsterdam and the Guggenheim Bilbao

Chapter One

In the first chapter I will elaborate on the significance of the Dutch cultural memory in St. Petersburg. The collecting activity by the Romanovs and by the private patrons of St. Petersburg, directed at collecting works of art by Dutch and Flemish masters, essentially influenced the westernization of the country from the 18th century onwards. I will explore the reception of trans-European cultural traditions by private individuals and by public institutions in Russia and the role the country played in the formation of these traditions. I will consider the ways in which cross-cultural cooperation between the two countries is being promoted and implemented nowadays.

I will describe cultural activity pursued by Peter the Great and his fondness of “all things Dutch” in the 18th century. Then, I will move on to the full implementation of his ideas by Catherine II and the foundation of the main museum of European art in Russia. I will plunge into the collecting activity by Catherine II in the 19th century. Finally, I will focus on the large acquisition of Dutch and Flemish collections by private art collectors in Saint Petersburg since 1915 under the rule of Nicholas II and after the Revolution.

In the second part of the Chapter I will draw a parallel between Saint-Petersburg and Amsterdam and I will elaborate on the significance of the Dutch cultural memory in St. Petersburg. The cultural capital of Russia still maintains clear traces of Dutch influence and cultural heritage. The architectural image of Saint-Petersburg, the network of rivers and channels, its proximity to the sea, the port, and even the climate contributed to a spiritual co-ordination of St. Petersburg with Dutch cities, particularly with Amsterdam. The Netherlands was important and interesting for Russians not only from practical point of view, but also from an intellectual perspective, as a place where innovative ideas flourished. Adoption of European cultural traditions by individuals and by public institutions in Russia and the ways in which cross-cultural cooperation between the Netherlands and Russia is being implemented and promoted nowadays will be taken into consideration in this chapter.

Chapter Two

In Chapter Two I will present an overview of the museum policies in post-Soviet Russia and in the Netherlands. I will elaborate on differences in museum policy formations in the two countries due to historical circumstances in the 20th century. I will elaborate on the ways in which cross-cultural cooperation between the Netherlands and Russia is being implemented nowadays. The area of study will cover the circulation of artworks and museum collections, as well as the cooperation of cultural and scientific institutions and foundations. The chapter will be focused on the modern trends of cultural exchanges since the last decade of the 20th century until present.

In recent years, several exhibitions of Russian art have been presented in Groninger Museum[3] (the Netherlands): “Russian Legends, Folk Tales and Fairy Tales” (2007­2008), “Sergej Diaghilev. Working for Diaghilev” (2004-2005), “The Russian Landscape” (2003-2004) and “Ilya Repin: the Secret of Russia” (2001-2002). From the other side, an exhibition by Maurits Escher has been organized in the State Hermitage Museum in 2003 and a series of “the Dutch Salons” cultural programs organized by the Netherlands Institute take place several times a year in the State Hermitage Museum on a regular basis. The Netherlands Institute[4] was established in 1997 in Saint-Petersburg and various foundations (“Mondriaan Foundation”[5], “Vereiniging Rembrandt”[6] ), networks (“CodART”[7] ) and projects (“Culture Program 2007-2013”[8] ) are working on the European and on international levels to maintain research and cooperation between the European and non-European countries.

Chapter Three

In several member states of the EU large museums have recently been opening up branches, satellite museums or annexes which alternatively initiate long-term cooperation with regional museums in their country. New types of collection exchange have taken place over the past few years, alongside the traditional methods of making loans for temporary exhibitions. London’s National Gallery and Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum have had a loan exchange agreement in operation for some years. Under this, a work of art from the permanent presentation in each of the museums is exchanged for the period of one year. The aim of the exchange is “to strengthen and enrich the permanent presentation in each museum”[9].

The question arises: is this a new practice? What prompts museums to undertake such initiatives? What are the possibilities and what are the drawbacks for this type of collection mobility? In this chapter I will analyze two particular examples of the “satellites” of big museums – the Hermitage Amsterdam Centre[10] (2004) and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao[11] (1997) as the gist of my thesis.

Chapter Four

I will present a brief sketch on the art museum phenomenon and its missions. In recent times, new types of collection exchanges and making loans for temporary exhibitions have arisen over the past decades. Both large museums as well as small regional museums benefit from collection and knowledge exchange. A growing number of cross-border collaborations between international and local; large, medium-sized and small; public museums and private collections take place in order to organize joint exhibitions, to exchange collections, etc. To name a few: “Crossart”[12] which promotes collaboration between several museums located near the German-Netherlands border, the “Hermitage – Italy Research and Cultural Centre”[13] in Ferrara (2007).

Exchange of objects frequently implies an exchange of personnel and their expertise. The Council for Museums, Libraries and Archives[14] (MLA) argues that both large museums as well as smaller regional museums benefit from collection and knowledge exchange. I will decipher recent tendencies of museums collaboration and I will touch upon the phenomenon of “globalisation of art” by the example of the “Museum extra muros”[15] policy adopted by some museum directors in recent times. Eventually, I will speculate upon the future visions, perspectives and development of art museums and museums’ networking in general. What is the future scenario of museum evolution? Can the creation of museum “satellites” abroad be seen as a future model of development of museums?


Living in and witnessing the times of the current geopolitical and economic global transformations (e.g.: EU/NATO enlargement, CFSP directives and regulations, etc), it is of a particular interest for me to observe the role of culture, cross-cultural policies, transfers and tendencies in European museums in a socio-political context of the 21st century.

The importance of cultural cooperation goes beyond the national interests of each country. It becomes a priority for UNESCO, for the Council of Europe and for the Institutions of the European Union. With support from international institutions in the last years, private initiatives and networks were established to lobby and boost cultural cooperation and mobility worldwide. Respectively, this facilitates the work of “ERICarts Institute for Comparative Cultural Policy Research”[16], as well as of trans-national networks advocating the arts and culture like “Circle”[17], “The European Forum for the Arts and Heritage”[18] (EFAH) and of independent international foundations such as the European Cultural Foundation and the European Foundation Centre. I attempt to show in the Master Thesis that through European cultural policy programs, the cohesion that already exists with other cultural and social sectors will increase.

Chapter One

1.1. Dutch cultural memory in St. Petersburg and reception of European cultural traditions in St. Petersburg

The beginning of the 21st century has witnessed a great interest by Russian people in reconsidering their rich cultural traditions and in rediscovering their cultural heritage. The isolation of national history during the Soviet epoch showed that the country’s history cannot be regarded without in-depth consideration of the cultural channels circulating between Western and Central Europe and Russia. “Cultural expansion” of the Russian art and the country’s exposure to the world in 1991 after the final collapse of the Soviet Union has witnessed a great number of cross-cultural exchanges and has contributed to a considerable improvement in scholarly exchanges. In their turn, Western specialists, who had devoted their work to other fields than Russian history, began to show an interest to Russia as they realized its importance for European history.

First of all, it seems necessary to define the term “cultural memory” in order to begin the discussion. According to Jan Assmann, “cultural memory is characterized by its distance from the everyday [...] (transcendence). Cultural memory has its fixed point; its horizon does not change with the passing of time. These fixed points are fateful events of the past, whose memory is maintained through cultural formation (texts, rites, monuments) and institutional communication (recitation, practice, observance)”[19]. In turn, most historians understand “collective memories” as “collectively shared representations of the past”[20]. “Collective memories originate from shared communications about the meaning of the past that are anchored in the life-worlds of individual who partake in the communal life of the respective collective. Wulf Kansteiner marks: “As such, collective memories are based in a society and its inventory of signs and symbols”[21]. Memory seems to reside not in perceiving consciousness but “in the material”: in the practices and institutions of social and psychic life, which function within us, but, strangely, do not seem to require either our participation or our explicit allegiance”[22]. Such collective memories exist on the level of families, professions, political generations, ethnic and regional groups, social classes and nations. “Collective memory can manifest itself in a variety of forms, it exists as objectified memory in the form of museums and monuments [...][23]. In this sense, memory exists as a “collective phenomenon”[24].

Russia has always been sensitive to European influences. This was especially the case during the Enlightenment when Russia began to identify itself as a European state open to Western influences. This West-ward orientation was a result of the new meaning of being “European” after the introduction of new reforms by Tsar Peter I. Maybe the most important of these reforms, from the point of view of European identity, were the reform of new “ontological” co-ordinates: the reforms of time and space. Peter the Great introduced fixed ritual cycles and in this way connected the country with the European calendar (social time). European geographical space of Russia has been identified by declaring the Ural Mountains as the natural boundary between Europe and Asia (geographical space).

“[...] For centuries, at least from the western point of view, the frontiers between Sweden, Poland and Austria on the one hand, and Russia and Turkey on the other, formed the eastern boundary of the European community”[25]. However, “early in the eighteenth century, the attitude of Europeans to Russia underwent a change and she was accorded grudging acceptance as a member of the European community. This period, during which Russia was widely recognized as part of Europe in a more than purely geographical sense, may be taken from the Peace of Nystadt in 1721 to the Revolution of 1917”[26]. The main reason for a new attitude towards Russia was due to the Europeanization of the Russian court and aristocracy carried out by Tsar Peter I after his return from his European tour. W.H. Parker notes: “The manners and customs, the arts and crafts, the language and literature of the West were forced upon the upper stratum of society, so that visitors from Europe could, for the first time, feel more or less at home in the country. A new capital, Petersburg, was built in imitation of London, Paris and Vienna. A European model army was created which, after the defeat of the Swedes at Poltava in 1709, introduced Russia as a leading European power. In 1735 a Russian army put Augustus III of Saxony on the throne of Poland. It was no longer possible to write the political history of Europe without reference to Russia”[27].

The Abbé Saint-Pierre[28] thought that it was “convenient and even necessary for the tranquility and security of the Society in general [...] to suffer the Czar to enter the Union”[29]. His main argument for including Muscovy in his supra-national Europe was: “the Christianity of his dominions is very different from that of ours, but they hope or salvation through Jesus Christ; therefore they are Christians. And if this appeal to charity should not suffice, it would still be wise to have the Russian “in order to save the expense of keeping upon the guard against him”[30]. W.H. Parker further notes: “many European philosophers entertained high hopes of Russia’s cultural promise and saw her as a missionary for civilization to Asia[31]. Having overthrown Napoleon’s might, she seemed to achieve the summit of respectability as a member of the Holy Alliance – a resurrection of the early European idea of a Christendom embracing Latin, Teuton and Slav alike. Russian music, literature and even science contributed to European civilization in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries”[32]. Obviously, there were many opponents attacking the idea of admitting Russia to the European “realm”. In Germany, Leopold von Ranke[33] suggested that “Russia was too deeply affected by Asiatic conditions to form an integral part of Europe”[34].

“By an interesting coincidence, the same Battle of Poltava (1709) and Treaty of Nystadt (1721) which announced Russia’s militant arrival on the European stage also contributed to the next great change in the eastern boundary of geographical Europe. A Swedish officer, taken prisoner at Poltava, spent thirteen years in Russia until his release after the Peace. While there, he diligently studied the geography of the Tsar’s realm and at Stockholm in 1730 published the book in which he claimed that the Ural Mountains, not the Ob, were the real eastern limit of Europe. He justified his new approach on the grounds that there was [...] such confusion that many map-makers were not even attempting to draw a boundary[35]. He dismisses the Ob as having been chosen for various inadequate reasons: because it was thought to be the political boundary of Russia, which it was not; because, in ignorance of the existence of the Urals, the Ob had seemed a good demarcation; and because geographers thought Asia, being so much larger, could afford to be generous to Europe”[36].

Furthermore, Strahlenberg[37] contended that the Urals “could be justified on excellent geographical grounds and his work is doubly important because he not only introduced a new boundary, but based it mainly on factors of physical geography, rather than on political or classical grounds. The Urals were not merely a watershed but divided land of different slope and elevation: on the Asiatic side great rivers flowed northwards, while on the European side they flowed both, north and south; there were, he alleged, important differences in the plant, animal and mineral geography of either side”[38]. For Kant, in 1802, the Ural Mountains were the natural dividing line between the two continents on physical, economic and human grounds[39]. To support this point of view, Malte Brun[40], in 1811, acclaimed it as “an unquestionable principle that the chain of Ural or Verchotian Mts. Marks the natural division between Europe and northern Asia”[41]. Because they were “a chain of mountains at least as considerable as the Alps” they were “without a doubt the natural dividing line between Europe and Asia”[42]. This “grand natural limit”[43] was possibly favoured by the Romantic Age as representing a “back to nature” move in geography away from classical or political considerations”[44]. Finally, according to Peter the Great’s reforms, Russia began to officially belong to the European cultural, temporal and even geographical community in the[18] th century.

Over the course of centuries, Russian Tsars continuously borrowed ideas and concepts from their Western neighbours. St. Petersburg was to mark the way for Russia to become modern by creating an environment that could be maintained only by broader and deeper contact with the West. However, Peter Rietbergen in his essay on “Russia between West and East” stresses “the inherent duality in Russian culture, and in the national character, as half-Asian, half-European”[45].

According to the source, Peter the Great was “a thorough utilitarian, and perceived clearly that what his people needed was not theological or philosophical Enlightenment, but plain, practical knowledge suitable for the requirements of everyday life. He wanted neither theologians nor philosophers, but military and naval officers, administrators, artisans, miners, manufacturers, and merchants, and for this purpose he introduced secular technical education. For the young generation primary schools were founded, and for more advanced pupils the best foreign works on fortification, architecture, navigation, metallurgy, engineering and cognate subjects were translated into the native tongue. Scientific men and cunning artificers were brought into the country, and young Russians were sent abroad to learn foreign languages and the useful arts. In a word, everything was done that seemed likely to raise the Russians to the level of material well-being already attained by the more advanced nations”[46].

At the same time, Peter the Great had strong affiliation with the intellectual life in Western Europe which he was trying to uphold. Hence, “every intellectual movement which has appeared in France and Germany has been reflected [...] in the educated society of St. Petersburg and Moscow”[47]. It is claimed that “during the first part of Peter's reign Russia was not subjected to the exclusive influence of any one particular country. Thoroughly cosmopolitan in his sympathies, Peter the Great [...] was ready to borrow from any foreign nation - German, Dutch, Danish, or French - whatever seemed to him to suit his purpose”[48].

“Russians started to collect Western European paintings in the first quarter of the 18th century. It was Peter the Great whose unceasing first for knowledge sought to penetrate every sphere of human endeavour, who brought a new vigour to the making of his own collection of rarities”[49]. “For I am one of those who are taught, and I seek those who will teach me”[50] – was one of Peter’s favourite sayings. During his first trip to Holland, Peter learned about museums and in 1714 he had established Russia’s first public museum, the St. Petersburg “Kunstkammer”. “I want people to look and learn”[51] – with these words, the founder was declared to have laid down the didactic function of the museum.

“Modern historiography often deals with Tsar Peter the Great’s Kunstkamera as a haphazard collection of incoherent rarities. However, the objects in the Kunstkamera were collected systematically being subject to a well-defined plan of Peter the Great. Purchasing objects for his Kunstkamera, Peter the Great’s main interest was in “naturalia”: plants, animals and minerals, rather than in the so-called “artificialia”, man­made precious objects. Two “naturalia-collections” acquired by Peter in Amsterdam – one from apothecary Albert Seba, the other from anatomist Frederik Ruysch – appeared to be the basis of the Kunstkamera. Initially, the Kunstkamera was built specially to house these two extensive collections. During his 1697-1698 stay in Amsterdam, Peter also “took the opportunity to study the collections of Jacob de Wilde, collector of statuettes, scientific instruments, gems, coins and medals”[52]. The author further mentions that “design and intent of Peter’s Kunstkamera resembled those of the big Amsterdam kunstkammers. The idea underlying these kunstkammers was to acquire full knowledge of the world”[53], in order to obtain tangible information of all animals, plants and minerals and to create the first encyclopedic museum in Russia. “Some kunstkammer owners collected scientific instruments to demonstrate the laws of nature, script samples or words of little known languages, inscriptions and archaeological finds, and samples of clothing, weaponry, and utensils used by indigenous peoples”[54]. Such kunstkammers contributed to systematization of knowledge. “Peter’s Kunstkamera was founded to contribute to the new European endeavor of augmenting existing knowledge”[55].

“Tsar Peter encouraged research of deformities, all along trying to debunk the superstitious fear monsters. He issued a “ukase”[56] ordering malformed, still-born infants to be sent from all over the country to the imperial collection. The ukase included deformed animals as well as human babies. He subsequently had them put on show in the Kunstkamera as examples of accidents of nature. To Peter, deformities were neither the devil’s doing nor God’s punishment but simply exceptions to the laws of nature”[57]. In this sense he was follower of the ideas of Spinoza[58]. The collectors Seba and Ruysch from Amsterdam, Nicolas Chevalier from Utrecht, the instrument makers Jan van Musschenbroek from Leiden and Daniel Fahrenheit from Amsterdam, the publishers-booksellers Pierre van der Aa and Van Waesbergens were among the intellectuals from Holland who have contributed to the collections of the Kunstkamera . Together with a few minor collections acquired for the Kunstkamera in 1716-1717, the Seba and Ruysch collections constitute the basis of the Academy of Sciences. “In 1878, the merging of the Anatomical Cabinet and the Ethnographical Museum resulted in the Museum for Anthropology and Ethnography”[59].

According to the letters in the Archives, it can be revealed how Peter the Great had set himself the task of gathering knowledge methodically. Later, the “artificialia” from the Seba collection took up residence in the Hermitage Museum. With Peter the Great’s acquisition of the Seba and Ruysch collections, the Russian Academy of Sciences had two modern, very well-documented collections at its disposal. Evaluating these collections, one should recognize them as early examples of modern university research collections.

“The Netherlands is one of the very few countries which significantly differs from Russia in all dimensions”[60]. Nevertheless, “when talking about the relations between the Netherlands and Russia, it is often said that a special friendship exists between these two countries. To support this claim, reference is usually made to the sojourns of Tsar Peter I in the Netherlands is 1697-1698”[61]. Russian Tsar admired economical and cultural achievement as well as diligence of the Dutch. Pride of Holland, its leading fleet was the aim of his voyage. Peter I worked incognito in Dutch shipyards adopting priceless experience of shipbuilding.

Peter the Great’s choice to lay foundation of a new capital was largely determined by his fanatic love of navigation and the images of the world-famous maritime cities, such as Venice, which he never visited, and Amsterdam, well familiar to him. The Tsar conceived the Neva delta as a good basis for the future city of channels and seamen. However, the scale of the St. Petersburg plans was completely different – the width of the Neva was far wider than that of the Amstel, and “the whole of Amsterdam could fit in the territory of the Vasilievsky Island alone”[62].

“The Russian cultural capital still has clear traces of its Dutch influence. The architectural image, the network of rivers and channels, its proximity to the sea, the port, and even the climate contributed to a spiritual co-ordination of St. Petersburg and Dutch cities, particularly Amsterdam”[63]. S. Gorbatenko argues that Peter the Great “brought into fashion all aspects of Dutch life upon his return to Russia. Resemblance of climate and landscape, water and sky in abundance gave a chance to found a city-double of Amsterdam on the Neva River. Buildings, embankments and ships similar to the Dutch ones appeared in Petersburg. Russian nobility imitated Dutch style of living even in trivial details. A new Russian tricolour similar to the Dutch, with the only difference in shifted stripes was set up by a royal decree. The motto of the Netherlands “Combat and emerge!” was also actual on the Neva shores”[64].

“The Dutch transformed territory of the country by winning it from the sea. The landscape was given the correct geometrical, architectural forms”[65]. One of the characteristic sings of the Dutch landscape is the perfect straight roads with trees on either side. Peter wanted his city on Neva to be founded on geometrical principles. The straight line is triumphant in city planning ideas of the Dutch cities and St. Petersburg. The geometry of the Dutch agglomeration, with its parallel plots of lands and water channels, and staggered lay-out of polders was approximated in St. Petersburg suburbs by the straight roads, the Ladoga and Ligovo channels, and the chain of summer country houses which run along the waterways[66]. However, due to the war against the Swedes, Peter paid but slight attention to the city’s layout. Hence, during the first decade of its existence, Peter’s city certainly lagged behind Amsterdam in this geometrical respect.

Saint-Petersburg as well as New-York has been frequently compared with Amsterdam. According to a Russian historian S. Gorbatenko, “It is a long-standing axiom that St. Petersburg is one of the most “regular” cities in Russia, a city of ensembles and layout structures based on principles of geometry and hierarchical subordination”[67]. The choice of the location for St. Petersburg in the delta of the Neva River is usually explained by the strategic advantages for protecting the Neva River’s mouth. Gorbatenko mentions that “when analyzing the geographical locations of Amsterdam and St. Petersburg, it is possible to detect their comparative similarity. Amsterdam is located on the Southern coast of the IJ Gulf, in the mouth of the Amstel River. St. Petersburg is situated on the islands of the branched Neva-delta. On a large scale the system of the Haarlem Lake – IJ Gulf – Amsterdam – Zuider Zee – North Sea finds correspondence with the system Ladoga Lake – Neva-delta (St. Petersburg) – Bay of Finland – Baltic Sea. The layout of both cities advances the idea of the seaside market town which communicates with the country’s mainland, due to their being located at the rivers’ inflows”[68]. Peter observed that similarity in climate, geographical location, nature and flat relief (both cities are built on perfectly level ground) during his first trip to the Netherlands, and decided to borrow the idea of long parallel lines of canals running through the city as well as regularly arranged streets and avenues in the newly founded city of St. Petersburg.

Certainly, the Netherlands was important and interesting for Russians not only from practical point of view, as a country where the shipbuilding know-how and European manners brought by Peter the Great could be learned, but also from an intellectual point of view, as a place where new scientific and philosophic ideas flourished. Nowadays, “it is generally confirmed that in modern German and Russian historiography the Dutch role is generally underestimated”[69]. In his studies (“The Dutch Republic”[70] and “Radical Enlightenment”[71] ), Jonathan I. Israel points out that “denying the existence of the devil” and “combating wonders” were two important characteristics of the early, so-called Radical Enlightenment. “As these discussions were written in or translated into the vernacular, they were read by thousands and discussed by even more and [...] found their way to France, England, Germany and even Russia”[72]. Starting with the 18th century, contacts with Dutch scholars and scientists were of special importance for the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. In 1730, the academician G. Miller had negotiations with Hermann Boerhaave and Willem Jacob’s Gravesande in Leiden and Pieter van Musschenbroek in Utrecht about possible connections with the St. Petersburg Academy. Intellectual relations between Russia and the Netherlands can be followed through the cooperation with the Dutch scientists (Petrus van Musschenbroek, Gravesande, Abraham Kaau-Boerhaave, Herman Boerhaave, Frederick Ruysch, Descartes, van der Aa) which led to the opening of St. Petersburg Academy of Science. “Many documentary proofs of this influence can be found, in which Dutch Humanists:

Desiderius Erasmus, Justus Lipsius, Hugo de Groot, Spinoza and others are mentioned”[73], as inspirers of the Russian philosophical thought.

In the Epoch of Enlightenment Russia began to identify itself like European state. That is why it began to be open for Western Influences. Three main origins of intellectual influence in the Enlightenment can be observed: France, Germany and Britain. French thought was brought to Russia with French models, style of courteous life and political thoughts. German influence was connected first of all with metaphysics and natural science. England was origin of influence in political and natural philosophy. Scottish philosophy was particular and important for Russians first of all like moral and social philosophy and political economy. The main agents of influence were so-called noblemen-philosophers who communicated with European intellectuals and realized cultural and intellectual unity with the West[74]. Such cross-cultural intellectual communication demonstrated the “moving” of ideas from Europe to Russia by the “enlightened monarchy” of Russia in accepting European ideas and political theories.

Political, technological and cultural exchanges between Russia and the Netherlands created after Peter the Great’s first visit to Europe some 300 hundreds years ago have been of great importance for the creation of future development of relations between Russia and the West. In addition to strengthening the position of Russia on the political arena in Europe, major policy of Peter the Great has been clearly aimed at establishing long-term and strong relations with the West, because Peter the Great wanted Russia to become European and its people to adapt European manners and education.

The rise of St. Petersburg in the 18th century was designed to show that the power of the human mind could triumph over the forces of nature, and that Russia was as much a part of the modern world as any other nation. Tsar Peter spoke of making his new capital at St. Petersburg a “window” through which technology and new ideas could flow. European technology, trade and the arts - all furthered to name St. Petersburg as Russia’s “window on the West”. But Peter’s city was Europe’s “window on Russia”, too, and as Russia’s role in the affairs of Europe increased, “Europeans curiosity [in Russia] deepened”[75].

Nowadays we can observe multiple traces of the Dutch culture that inspired Peter more than three centuries ago, e.g.: progressive transformations in Russia of that time in field of culture and way of life. The next chapter attempts to follow the actual steps taken by Peter the Great and his successors to cultivate Western European tastes in Russia and to direct the Russian Empire to a Western path of development in the fine arts field. The chapter investigates the historic role of St. Petersburg as Russia’s “window on Europe”, and features the great masterworks of Western European art (namely, Flemish and Dutch) assembled and prized in the State Hermitage Museum by the Romanov House, by private collectors and patrons of art and by Tsar Peter’s spiritual follower and enlightener - Catherine the Great, in particular.

1.2 History of Dutch art collecting tradition in the Hermitage

“The Hermitage is the pride of Russia – a national museum, made up of different aspects of world culture in dialogue with one another”[76]

Dr. M. Piotrovsky

Most of the large famous museums (e.g. British Museum, the Louvre and Metropolitan Museum of Art) came into being on the basis of private collections. “Private collections play a role of fundamental importance in the art world. Modern museums and galleries constitute the result of activity of numerous collectors: most of the time at first the work of art wins the heart of one person, a private collector, and then of many. Thus the history of a work of art is inseparably intertwined with the history of this or that collection in general. Art collecting is internationally a very topical subject. Art collectors traditionally shape art tastes not only of their own generation, but of successive generations as well.”[77] From the anthropological perspective, “fine art” defines “art produced chiefly to appeal to the sense of beauty”[78].

The majority of Russian Tsars were mainly Russophiles, but they dreamt of the Western European capitals. “The Russians admired Dutch practicality and their love of art. The Hermitage was created to satisfy those dreams”[79]. Being Russia's premier art museum, the Hermitage came to play a major role in the history of Russian culture. It possesses an extraordinary collection of Dutch and Flemish artists which has been thoroughly gathered and enlarged by the art connoisseurs from the entire world. The collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings of the Hermitage Museum is one of the richest and largest in the world, illustrating all branches and trends of different art schools. The Hermitage art collection mirrors the evolution of tastes of Russian rulers, their undeniable aspiration for the Western art practice, customs and craft. It began life as the private art collection of the imperial family and was nationalized and greatly expanded after the Revolution.

Peter the Great was fond of all things Dutch. He started collecting fine art and thus set the tone for the Romanovs to follow. During his first tour abroad, in 1697-98, and on his second visit to Holland, in 1717, during the latter stage of the Republic’s Golden Age, Peter the Great often attended art auctions personally and bought out of them directly. His favourite artists were thought to be Rembrandt, Rubens, van Eyck, Steen, Wouwerman, Brueghel, and Ostade. He brought 120 pictures to decorate palaces of Saint Petersburg. He liked Dutch national paintings and praised the life of hard-working ordinary people depicted in the paintings. The abundance of Dutch and Flemish pieces of art of small size was easy to transport. “Because of their comparatively small dimensions, reasonable price and captivating subjects, paintings of the Flemish and especially Dutch schools made up the bulk of these collections. This was an art which was easy to understand and to love. The artistic merits of these pictures – largely the work of mirror, sometimes rare and little-known masters – were for the most part of a very high order”80.

Obviously enough, Peter’s long stay in Holland influenced his dominant interest in painting of the Dutch and Flemish schools. Indeed, it was he who introduced the concept of collecting paintings to Russia. It was Peter’s desire to transform daily Russian life in the Western European manner, and his personal, all-encompassing interest led to the first acquisitions of paintings by European artists. However, the westernization of Russia was neither begun nor completed in the reign of Peter. It has been continued by Catherine the Great (1762-1796), who has managed to implement all his projects in full measure. Catherine the Great was a spiritual successor of Peter the Great and a founder of the Dutch art collection in the Hermitage.

The history of the Hermitage collection of Dutch and Flemish drawings spans more than two centuries. Like many other sections of the museum, it owes its foundation and a significant share of its riches to the all embracing passion for collecting of Catherine the Great who did not consider the “modest” acquisitions of Peter the Great and of Empress Elizabeth as a basis for her Hermitage. During the early years of the museum’s existence, the empress acquired a number of important collections which formed the basis of the “Cabinet of Drawings”, and included works from all of the leading European schools.

Since the beginning of her ruling, Catherine the Great stressed that her reforms were a continuation and an adaptation of the ones started by Peter. Catherine insisted that Russia must be Western in culture and destiny, and she set out to make her adopted country the equal of Europe in ways that even Peter the Great had never foreseen. Her goal was to close the gap that still divided Russia from Europe and to erase the differences between them. She was the first to initiate gathering of the European art and acquired main Dutch and Flemish collections of paintings to imperial collection of the Hermitage. The Empress of Russia “had an enormous appetite for life, power and art”[81]. Ardently following the example by Peter of concentrating on “the universal museum”, in the following two decades she quickly accumulated an impressive collection of Western art that could rival the older and more prestigious museums in Europe. Through her, the Russian nobility were encouraged to actively collect art. In the second half of the 18th century the city had no less than fifty significant private collections. Many of these ultimately ended up in the Hermitage. “Having at her disposal almost unlimited financial resources, the Russian Empress spared no expense for enlarging her museum”[82]. Catherine the Great spent a quarter of a century on the assiduous and methodical purchase of some of the largest and most splendid collections in Europe. “This had the simultaneous effect of launching Catherine into the highest ranks of European collectors and humiliating a fellow monarch.”[83]

Catherine was an enlightened monarch. The European Enlightenment had an absolutely profound effect upon Russian society, culture, and politics. It was during her reign that Russia realized Peter’s Dream and became a truly great European state, a rich and powerful land of which the capital, court, army and art collections amazed foreign visitors. Since Russia imitated Europe in order to be recognized as part of it, Catherine politics were based on a close alliance of art and power. “Catherine did not entirely transform Russia. She did succeed, however, in opening an artistic doorway between East and West – a doorway that remains ajar to this day”[84]. Catherine the Great’s death in 1796 marked the end of the art collecting era. While Catherine’s successors to the Russian throne did much to add to the picture gallery and departments of the Hermitage, all active acquisitions of Western European drawings for the imperial collections ceased.

Lack of new major acquisitions for the Hermitage did not, however, mean that the flow of Dutch paintings to Russia ceased during these years. Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, Dutch and Flemish drawings continued to arrive in St. Petersburg, not for state collections bur rather through the activities of private collectors. In general, Russian collectors of old master paintings can be divided into two main categories. The most numerous group is that of the noblemen and rich merchants. They were interested in European art mainly as a form of self-fashioning, as a demonstration of their European education and of the prosperity of their town and country estates. It was in the 19th and early 20th century when a new category of collectors emerged in the middle class circles of society.

1.3 Dutch art collecting practices in the 20th century

Until the 1917 October Revolution, St. Petersburg was one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe. However, the most important accession to the collection of Flemish and Dutch paintings was the acquisition of the well-known collection of the celebrated Russian traveler and scholar, P.P. Semenov-Tyan-Shansky. Over more than half a century, he acquired works at home and abroad, although he was a man of modest means. In 1883 he published an extensive, though unfinished, study entitled “Contributions to the History of Netherlandish Painting, on the basis of the Public and Private Collections in St. Petersburg”[85]. This collection was highly renowned among connoisseurs of art and brought in nearly 700 pictures, making the Hermitage collection of Flemish and Dutch painting one of the world’s most important and comprehensive. It was considered to be the second largest collection of Dutch and Flemish masters in Europe.

The earliest purchases in the collection opened with Pieter Lastman's “Annunciation”, brought by Semenov from Paris in the 1860’s. Many of his acquisitions have been made in St. Petersburg, where trade in antiques reached a paramount scale. Generalizing from the experience he accumulated, Semenov wrote the monograph “Studies on the History of Painting in the Low Countries”[86] (1885-1890). For the first time the chronology of Dutch art was set out in the Russian language. In 1910, his whole gallery of paintings was purchased by the Imperial Hermitage. Following the death of the collector in 1914, a large exhibition entitled “In Memory of Pyotr Petrovich Semenov-Tyan-Shansky” opened in the Hermitage. “The collector’s mission was to transform the Hermitage into a unique museum beyond the Dutch borders, which could represent the whole evolution of the Dutch art of the 17th century”[87]. Hence, the collector's lifelong objective of making an addition to the celebrated Hermitage gallery was fulfilled. This huge collection was the last major addition to the museum before the outbreak of the First World War.

From the late 18th century until the Revolution of October 1917, each new generation of art collectors and amateurs in Russia actively and ambitiously collected European old masters, especially those of the Dutch and Flemish schools. In addition to the famous collectors of masterpieces in the Hermitage and the imperial palaces in and around St. Petersburg, there were many private collections of Dutch and Flemish art belonging to aristocrats and merchants. They were kept in both their city and country homes and estates in almost every region of the country. With the time, many of these collections were sold at estate auctions or via art dealers, not only in St. Petersburg and Moscow, but in various provincial centres as well. Some were even dispersed in Europe, for instance the famous collection of Paul Delaroff, which was sold in Paris in 1914.

“Only a part of one of St. Petersburg’s best private collections entered the Hermitage after the Revolution: namely that of Prince Vladimir Argutinsky-Dolgoruky, a marvellous connoisseur of Russian and European drawings who had ties to many important Russian cultural figures of the early part of the 20th century. Argutinsky-Dolgoruky put together an outstanding collection, the better part of which – including works by Rembrandt, Pieter Bruegel, Barend van Orley, Gerard ter Borch the Elder, Jacques de Gheyn, and Jan van Goyen – was taken abroad before the Revolution and sold at auctions in London and Amsterdam in 1923 and 1925. When the collector left for Paris in 1920, he gave those drawings which remained in Russia to the Russian Museum, from where the works by European artists were later sent to the Hermitage Museum”[88].




















[19] Jan Assmann; John Czaplicka. “Collective Memory and Cultural Identity” , New German Critique, No. 65, (Spring-Summer, 1995), P.128-129,

[20] Wolf Kansteiner, “Finding meaning in memory: a methodological critique of collective memory studies”, History and Theory. Vol. 41, Issue 2. Wesleyan University: 2008.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Richard Trediman, Present, past, identity and the memory crisis (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), 34.

[23] Wolf Kansteiner, “Finding meaning in memory: a methodological critique of collective memory studies”, History and Theory. Vol. 41, Issue 2. Wesleyan University: 2008.

[24] Ibid.

[25] W.H. Parker. “Europe: how far?“, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 126, No. 3 (Sep., 1960), pp. 278­297,; P.284, Accessed 16 January 2009.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Halecki, op. cit., p. 98; Clark, G. N., The European inheritance, Vol. 11 (Oxford University Press, 1954), pp. 153-4.

[28] (1658-1743)

[29] W.H. Parker. “Europe: how far?“, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 126, No. 3, (Sep., 1960), pp. 278­297.

[30] Saint-Pierre, A project for settling an everlasting peace in Europe, (London: printed for J. Watts, 1714), pp. 104-5.

[31] Gollwitzer, H., Europabild und Europagedanke: Beiträge zur deutschen Geistesgeschichte des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts, (München : Becksche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1951), pp. 78-9.

[32] W.H. Parker. “Europe: how far?“The Geographical Journal, Vol. 126, No. 3, (Sep., 1960), pp. 278­297.

[33] (1795-1886)

[34] F. von Ranke, Geschichte der romanischen und germanischen Volker von 1494 bis 1535, (Leipzig, 1824), p. iii.

[35] Strahlenberg, Das Nordliche und Ostliche Theil von Europa und Asia, (Stockholm, 1730), p. 106.

[36] Ibid., p. 105.

[37] Philip Johan von Strahlenberg (Philip Johan Tabbert) (1676 — 1747) was a Swedish officer and geographer of German origin who made important contributions to the cartography of Russia.

[38] Strahlenberg, Das Nordliche und Ostliche Theil von Europa und Asia, (Stockholm, 1730), pp. 107-11.

[39] W.H. Parker. “Europe: how far? The Geographical Journal, Vol. 126, No. 3, (Sep., 1960), pp. 278­297.

[40] (1755-1826)

[41] Malte-Brun, M., Précis de la Geographic Universelle, (Paris, 1811), pp. 2-3.

[42] E. Mentelle, E.; M. Malte-Brun, Géographie mathématique, physique et politique, (Paris, 1803, Vol. 2), pp. xi-xii.

[43] Pinkerton, J., Geography, (London, 1811), Vol. I, p. j.

[44] W.H. Parker. “Europe: how far?“The Geographical Journal, Vol. 126, No. 3 (Sep., 1960), pp. 278­297,; P.284.

[45] Rietbergen, Pieter. Russia between West and East: Images of the Tsarist Empire in the Dutch Periodical De Aarde en haar Volken, 1864-1918, (Groningen: Institutt voor Noord- en Oosteuropese Studies, 1977), 118.

[46] Russia. Chapter XXVI - St. Petersburg And European Influence,

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Avarish, Boris. I. Western European art, the Hermitage: paintings, drawings, sculptures. (Leningrad: Aurora, 1977), p. 36.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] J. J. van het Reve, De Kunstkamera van Peter de Grote. De Hollandse inbreng, gereconstrueerd uit brieven van Albert Seba en Johann Daniel Schumacher uit de jaren 1711-1752, (Hilversum: Verloren, 2006), p.335.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid.

[56] “A decree” (translation made from Russian).

[57] J. J. van het Reve, De Kunstkamera van Peter de Grote. De Hollandse inbreng, gereconstrueerd uit brieven van Albert Seba en Johann Daniel Schumacher uit de jaren 1711-1752, (Hilversum: Verloren, 2006), p.336.

[58] Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677)

[59] J. J. van het Reve, De Kunstkamera van Peter de Grote. De Hollandse inbreng, gereconstrueerd uit brieven van Albert Seba en Johann Daniel Schumacher uit de jaren 1711-1752, (Hilversum: Verloren, 2006), p.336.

[60] Semenov, Radislav. Cross-Country Differences in Stock Market Development: A Cultural View. (Radboud University Nijmegen: 2002), p.1.

[61] Gorbatenko, Sergei. New Amsterdam: St. Petersburg and architectural images of the Netherlands, (Saint-Petersburg: Dvor: 2003), 28.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Gorbatenko, Sergei. New Amsterdam: St. Petersburg and architectural images of the Netherlands, (Saint-Petersburg: Dvor, 2003), 18.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Jong de, E.A. Petr I I Gollandia: Russko-gollandskie nauchnie I khydozhestvennye sviazi v epokhu Petra Velikogo, (St. Petersburg: Paradis Batavus, 1997), 286.

[66] Gorbatenko, Sergej. Idei preborazovaniia landshaftov okrestnostei Sankt-Peterburga v pervoj chetverti XVIII v. Trudi vserossiiskoi nauchnoi knoferentsii, posviashchennoi 300-letnemu iubileiu otechestvennogo flota. (Perslavl’-Zalesskii, 1992, vol. II), 14-24.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Ibid.

[69] J. J. van het Reve, De Kunstkamera van Peter de Grote. De Hollandse inbreng, gereconstrueerd uit brieven van Albert Seba en Johann Daniel Schumacher uit de jaren 1711-1752, (Hilversum: Verloren, 2006),

[70] Jonathan I. Israel, The Dutch Republic : its rise, greatness, and fall, 1477-1806, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998).

[71] Jonathan I. Israel, Radical enlightenment : philosophy and the making of modernity 1650-1750, (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2001).

[72] Ibid.

[73] Piotrovsky, Michail. “The Taste for Collecting”. The Hermitage Magazine, no.7 (2007), p. 14-17, , Accessed 16, January, 2009.

[74], Accessed 16 January, 2009. (translated from Russian by the author).

[75] Lincoln, William Bruce. Sunlight at midnight: St. Petersburg and the rise of modern Russia. (New York: Basic Books, 2000), p. 39.

[76] Piotrovsky, Michail. “The Taste for Collecting”, The Hermitage Magazine, no.7 (2007): 14-17.

[77] CODART and Foundation for Cultural Inventory, “Dutch and Flemish art in Russia”, (Amsterdam, 2005),


[79] Androsov, S., Asvarisch, B. Collectors in St. Petersburg. Hermitage Amsterdam. (Wananders Publishers: Zwolle, 2007), p. 2.

[80] Androsov, S., Asvarisch, B. Collectors in St. Petersburg. Hermitage Amsterdam. (Wananders Publishers: Zwolle, 2007), p.3

[81] Uren, Janet, “Canada welcomes master works from the collection of Catherine the Great”, The Hermitage Magazine, no. 5 (2005), 74.

[82] Ibid. P.5.

[83] James C. Steward, The Collections of the Romanovs: European Art from the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. (New York: Merrell Publishers Ltd, 2003), p. 44.

[84] Uren, Janet, “Canada welcomes master works from the collection of Catherine the Great”, The Hermitage Magazine, no. 5 (2005), 74.

[85] Semenov-Tyanshansky, P.P. Contributions to the History of Netherlandish Painting, on the basis of the Public and Private Collections in St. Petersburg, (Leningrad: 1883), 89.

[86] CODART and Foundation for Cultural Inventory, “Dutch and Flemish art in Russia”,(Amsterdam, 2005),, Accessed 16 January, 2009.

[87] Ibid.

[88] Ibid.

Excerpt out of 125 pages


Art Mobility between Museums in Europe
A case study of the Hermitage Amsterdam and the Guggenheim Bilbao
University of Groningen
Double-Degree Erasmus Mundus Master Course "Euroculture: Europe in the Wider World"
B (ECTS), 8 out of 10
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"Congratulation to your thesis which was given the grade B/8 in ECTS system. Your thesis was a comprehensive piece of work, well structured and with an interesting and provoking research question that you answered in a systematic way by your investigation of a number of various sources, both academic and popular", - Prof.Dr., Uppsala University. "Your topic is important and has not been tackled before in such a thorough way and your conclusions are original. My congratulations with this good result", (Prof.Dr., University of Groningen)
Mobility, Museums, Europe, Hermitage, Amsterdam, Guggenheim, Bilbao
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M.A. Arts Nadia Ptashchenko (Author), 2009, Art Mobility between Museums in Europe, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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