The year 1764 is considered the year of its founding by Catherine the Great, the originator and leading practitioner of Art without Borders. That year, she purchased a major collection of 225 paintings by Flemish and Dutch masters that had originally been assembled for Frederick II of Prussia. This stunning coup launched the Hermitage’s collection with a treasure trove of paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Raphael, van Dyck, Hals, Holbein, Titian and many more that dazzle us to this day. Her purchases fused her love of sublime beauty with an understanding of how her audacious acquisitions could enhance the perception of Russia as a world power. It has been estimated that she amassed over 4,000 paintings, 38,000 books, 10,000 engraved gems, 10,000 drawings, 16,000 coins and medals and a natural history collection during her reign, thus in just one generation managing to rival the collections of the older European museums. The collections grew so fast that she had to embark on a major building program as well – expanding to the 1,000 sumptuous rooms we marvel at today.
Located between the Neva River and Palace Square, the Hermitage Museum complex consists of five buildings—Winter Palace, Large Hermitage, Small Hermitage, New Hermitage, and the Theatre of Catherine the Great. Each of the buildings was designed by celebrated architects from the 18th and 19th centuries. The most famous of the buildings is the Winter Palace, designed by Bartolommeo Rastrelli, and which was the residence the Russian emperors until 1917. Today, the buildings house part of the Hermitage’s unique European, Russian, Impressionist and Modern, Roman, Greek, Islamic, and Egyptian collections.
In 1764, Russian Empress Catherine the Great purchases a considerable collection of Western European Paintings, laying the foundation for the modern-day Hermitage. Today, the Hermitage is one of the largest museums in the world. Explore this section to see how the Hermitage has evolved over the last two hundred years.
Over the last 20 years, the facilities of the Hermitage Museum have been expanded by the on-going construction of the Staraya Derevnya open storage facility and laboratory complex as well as the renovation of the General Staff Building to house its collections of contemporary art and the addition of Palace Square and the Alexander Column.