Its spectacular holdings in art have long been celebrated; but now, as it reaches out to the world, the museum reveals a closely held secret
A fabulous cache of Impressionist and other paintings, hidden for 50 years, is surfacing in a new exhibit at the Hermitage, Russia's museum of the czars in St. Petersburg. The paintings, by masters such as Van Gogh, Degas, Monet and Renoir, were confiscated from Germany by the Red Army at the close of World War II.
One of the most opulent sites on Earth, the Hermitage includes the Winter Palace of the Romanov czars, who lived on a scale of lavish luxury rivaled only by the Bourbons and the Habsburgs. It's history goes back to Czar Peter the Great and the founding of St. Petersburg in 1703 as "a window on Europe" for Mother Russia. By 1783, Catherine the Great had purchased artworks by the thousands. To house them she added annex after annex to the Winter Palace, calling them her Hermitage — literally, a home for hermits; figuratively, a refuge.
Over the centuries the Hermitage has bought, confiscated and otherwise acquired a wealth of holdings so that today it comprises one of the world's finest collections of paintings, sculptures and antiquities.