Voyage into Myth:
French Painting from Gauguin to Matisse from the Hermitage Museum
The exhibition presently at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto takes us on a voyage of delight, as promised in the poem by Baudelaire that gives this exhibition its title:
There, there is nothing else but grace and measure,
Richness, quietness and pleasure.
This is a truly major event; it represents the second in a series of three exhibitions from the Hermitage to be shown exclusively in Canada. Last year we saw Rubens and His Age at the AGO, in 2004 an exhibition of treasures from the Hermitage Museum's collections of decorative arts will travel to Canada.
Almost all of the 74 works in the exhibition come from the collections of two pre-World War I muscovite industrialists, Shchukin and Morozov. This exhibition is witness to the fact that Shchukin and Morozov were extraordinarily gifted as collectors and patrons.
The overriding impression is that of an evocation of the Golden Age of myth, a return to classicism in the French tradition, but it is a classicism expressed in the brilliant colours of the early 20th century and tempered by an appreciation for the strength of the primitive. While the works in the exhibition are clearly modern, they reflect the timelessness of myth. Thus the mythical past is repeated in the present: Bacchus and Ariadne by Maurice Denis is set on a 20th century beach, but the image echoes the poses of ancient myth and classical sculpture.
When you enter the exhibition, you are transported out of the everyday and its humdrum concerns into another world. What you will see will enchant you, will transform you and will transport you -- even if only for a while -- into a world of myth and harmony. If you cannot visit the exhibition while it is in Toronto (until Jan. 5, 2003), you have another chance to see in at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where it will open on Jan. 31, 2003. We have to thank our parent organization, The State Hermitage Museum Foundation of Canada, for setting in motion the activities that eventually led to the three Hermitage exhibitions coming to Canada.
There is another Canadian connection: Ozias Leduc, who is well known as a decorator of Quebec churches, studied the theories on religious art of Maurice Denis at the l'Atelier de l'art sacré in Paris, while Denis visited Canada in 1927; J.W. Morrice of Montreal spent most of his adult life in Paris where he befriended Matisse and other leading-edge painters of the day.
The effect upon entering the exhibition space is stunning -- canvasses in
jewel-like colours, glowing with golden light. Powerful works by Matisse and
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Picasso, the recreation of the entire music room in Morozov's Moscow mansion, paintings and sculptures not only by well-known artists such as Cézanne and Rodin, but by others not so well known in Canada, all are of great interest. Albert Marquet's Bay of Naples and Kees Van Dongen's Spring are two delightful surprises among many. Installations of large decorative panels by Maurice Denis and Pierre Bonnard are the highlights of the exhibition. These panels survived World War II by being evacuated to Siberia, and remained hidden away afterwards, rolled up and kept in storage for many years, to protect them from the depredations of political apparatchiks.
The first works we see are paintings by Gauguin -- an artist who believed in the power of the primitive. By evoking an exotic, primitive world and representing it by using seemingly simple forms and pure colours (and relying on static composition), he gave his paintings a pronounced iconic quality. They have beauty and directness to quite extraordinary effect.
There is a pine tree by Cézanne that takes your breath away. While Cézanne was intrigued by it because it posed complex problems in need of solution, you can feel the wind in its branches, you can smell the sap in the heat of the Mediterranean sun. It is the colour of the paintings you have to experience first hand, no reproduction can ever do justice to these canvasses.
Pierre Bonnard's monumental work Méditerranée was once installed on the landing of a staircase in Morozov's Moscow mansion. Ionian half-columns divide three huge panels; the luminous southern colours and the balanced composition create perfect harmony between the panels. The individual elements are simple: a tree-shaded garden on a hillside overlooking the distant sea, some women and children, a balustrade. Its greatness lies in the subtlety of the composition, the delightful interplay of colours and the subtle shifting between surface tension and recession in depth. You feel you must see Méditerranée again and again, you cannot live without it.
When I first saw the Méditerranée panels in the General Staff Building in St. Petersburg on an overcast day, without the dividing half-columns, they were impressive but did not take hold of me as they did at the AGO where they work their magic upon you. Here their impact is enhanced by the way they have been installed. It will be interesting to compare the installation of this work when the exhibition opens at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts where it is planned to be shown on top of their grand staircase.
The other tour de force at this exhibition is the reproduction of the music room from Morozov's Moscow mansion, decorated with the story of the Cupid and Psyche -- an impressive work he commissioned from Maurice Denis. The room's dimensions have been exactly re-created, including openings for doors and the molding indicating the location of the ceiling. The five main panels are almost four metres high, flanked by borders, smaller panels and overdoor paintings. The colours are bright and as artificial as the colours of lollipops.
As soon as you enter the room, you feel that something delightful is going to happen to you right now! You feel almost weightless. The whole room bubbles with happiness. Some of the original vases and sculptures are also installed, I wish a few of the chairs designed by Maurice Denis had been included.
Works are displayed to best advantage throughout the galleries by placing the work of one artist next to a complementary work by another. This approach makes even Puvis de Chavannes look modern. The rooms build up to a final crescendo of very strong works by Picasso and Matisse. Picasso's Dryad of 1908 radiates enormous power, a coiled energy you do not always find in his later works. Matisse is represented by nine important works, including Game of Bowls and View of Collioure.
Many of the canvases from the Shchukin and Morozov collections are too fragile to travel, like the great Dance commissioned from Matisse by Shchukin. During one of the pre-opening events, Professor Piotrovsky, Director of the Hermitage, shared his plans for his museum with an attentive audience and announced the creation of two new galleries in the General Staff Building, the Morozov and Shchukin Galleries, where the works collected by them will be displayed, together with other 19th and 20th century European paintings. The Canadian Friends of the Hermitage invite you to join us on our next voyage to St. Petersburg, when we shall have ample opportunity to see the works of art on permanent display in the Hermitage Museum.
Doris M. Smith
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ICOM (Russia) International Conference in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia
Nancy Scarth, Secretary, Canadian Friends of the Hermitage
In September, I represented the Friends, and Canadian museum volunteers, at the triennial meeting of the International Council of Museums, held this year in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. This was the first ICOM conference to be held since the formation in October, 2001, of the Union of Russian Museums (whose president is Dr. Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of the Hermitage Museum) and thus it was appropriate that Russia was chosen as the host country.
One may well ask, "Why Siberia?" Krasnoyarsk is at almost the midpoint of Russia, thus giving museum directors in the east and west an equal advantage - and 26 of the 68 Russian delegates were from Siberia and the Eastern Territories. In addition, there is growing recognition in the Kremlin that the great contribution of Siberian oil and other resources to the Russian economy must be recognized in concrete ways. Krasnoyarsk, an industrial, cultural and educational centre of a million inhabitants, rose to the occasion by presenting a four-day conference that gave museum directors from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok a forum for an exchange of much museum-related information, showcased Krasnoyarsk museums and their social interaction, and treated delegates royally with several banquets, dancing, a gala concert of local talent, and a boat trip and picnic on an island in the Yenisei River. Food was abundant and delicious, toasts were frequent and wine and conversation flowed freely.
The four international delegates were Jacques Perot, France, President of ICOM; Elisabeth Olofsson, Sweden, member of the ICOM Executive Council; Francine Brousseau, Canada, President, Canadian Museums Association; and myself. We were well-supplied with interpreters and skipped a few of the sessions as they showed us some of the local places of interest, including the estate museum of the painter Surikov where we were each presented with a book of his art.
The title of my paper was "Voluntarism in Canada - a Deeply-rooted Tradition" and it was a challenge to reduce the content to less than 20 minutes. There was simultaneous translation, and fortunately I had sent an advance copy to ICOM Russia for translation. As I anticipated - and mentioned in my paper - the literal translation of the word "volunteer" has an unpleasant connotation in Russian; during the communist regime, "volunteers" did not have much choice in the matter. Their solution: our word was given Russian grammatical endings and perhaps is now part of the Russian language.
Montreal Chapter News
730E - 4300 de Maisonneuve West,
Montreal, PQ H3Z 1K8. Tel. (514) 934-0821
On Wed Oct 30, members met to personalize approximately 400 letters being sent to friends, encouraging their membership. A membership form was enclosed. All our information is bilingual, English on one side, French on the other. It has been quite a big effort to get to this point, but we hope for good returns. Additions to our current membership would provide us not only with funds needed to proceed, but with new blood to add to our working committee.
On Tues Oct 23/02, a good representation of the Montreal Chapter attended a
dinner meeting of the "Gaucho Club" made up of prominent members of the
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. We were complimented by the presence of Bob
Kaszanits and Guy Cogeval who showed slides of the upcoming exhibition. The
evening was organized by one of our committee members, Dr Sean Murphy, who
introduced our Chapter to the audience, many of whom expressed interest in
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Joan and John Vanduzer join the Friends on their Baltic Capitals Tour
The lure of a private tour of the famed Hermitage with a small group of "Friends" was irresistible, and we signed on.
The fact that we were first spending six days in The Baltic countries on the way to St. Petersburg turned out to be a tremendous bonus. The history of The Baltic countries is so intertwined with that of Russia, Poland, Sweden and Germany that a visit through this region helped provide us with some perspective on the cultural and historical development of Russia.
Until the late 1980s when they were recognized as leading players in the breakup of the USSR, the Baltic countries had not commanded much attention from the West. We had to look in the atlas to locate these three countries on the edge of The Baltic Sea.
It is in fact impossible to lump these countries together. Each country is distinct, with different languages largely in-comprehensible to each other, with different histories and now, different approaches to their developing capitalistic economies.
Lithuania, unlike Latvia and Estonia, had a glorious period during the 17th Century when it was part of Poland but it was tossed about from one power to another for the last century. Latvia and Estonia on the other hand had been under the thumb of Russia for centuries with their people treated as serfs. That these countries had somehow maintained strong cultures through these turbulent eras was amazing and inspiring.
In spite of the devastation caused by indiscriminate bombing of the Nazis at the end of WWII, the charming historic centers of the capitals have been rebuilt. These are now designated UNESCO sites.
A highlight for us was an afternoon in Riga at The Museum of The Occupation of Latvia, 1940-1991 trying to understand the turmoil of this period. To look at a picture of the town square lying in rubble with dead bodies being loaded into a hand-drawn cart and then to step outside the museum into the very same reconstructed square is a taste of reality.
Tallinn in Estonia is a mix of very chic (we had a meal in a minimalist restaurant which was the equivalent of the very best of New York) and very simple (the hand-knit sweater market against the city wall). As we were standing outside St. Nicholas Church, "Friends" president Doris Smith reminisced about the night the roof of this church, which was her family church, was consumed in flames from Nazi bombing. The Estonians had at first welcomed the Nazis thinking they had some familiarity with Germans because of old links with the Hanseatic League; they believed they were being rescued from communist control! Such was certainly not the case and after these horrendous years they were again taken over by the Communists for another round of oppression.
Each of our guides told the moving story of the 600 km. human chain which spontaneously developed along the highway (on which we traveled) from Vilnius to Tallinn in the spring of 1991 to protest Russian occupation. People used songs to voice their feelings, and music became a powerful tool of political action.
A tension-filled crossing of the border from Estonia into Russia reminded us that independence for Estonia was just a decade old. It seemed that both countries have tried to make this experience a little less intimidating by showcasing their most beautiful customs officers on the front lines. One of our group was disappointed not to be frisked!
As we passed Ivan the Terrible's formidable castle we realized we were entering a country where everything is bigger and more imposing. Napoleon's presence was felt when we entered the city of St. Petersburg through the Narva Gates, erected by Alexander I to welcome home the victorious Russian troops after the defeat of Napoleon. There were other reminders of this victory: banners and flags captured from his army hang in Kazan Cathedral.
St. Petersburg has to be seen to be believed. The number of enormous buildings and palaces built mainly within 150 years of its founding gives a symmetry to the city. The Hermitage, originally a small part of Catherine's quarters in the Winter Palace now takes up the whole of the Winter Palace and four additional palaces.
The stories of the Romanovs are endlessly intriguing. Many of their
pictures hang in the Catherine Palace, and the stories become very real. Of
them all, Catherine is our greatest enigma; she controlled a huge empire of
shifting alliances, she instituted reforms that were ahead of her time, she had
an insatiable appetite for beautiful things purchased by the shipload and she
still had time and energy
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for many romantic liaisons! Seeing the tombs of the last Czar and his family installed as recently as1998 in St. Peter and St. Paul's caused us all to stop and think. (The bones of two family members have not been identified.)
While The Hermitage is about European art, The Russian Museum is mainly about Russian art. We realized that we knew very little about Russian art and appreciated an opportunity to see a concentrated display of this country's world-class art. We visited at least one church a day and usually more. Under the Soviets, churches were used for concerts, for art galleries or they were closed down. Remarkably, one church was a museum to atheism!
We went to the Circus and to the Opera, shopped along Nevsky Prospekt, visited palaces until it all became a blur. What we gained cannot be properly detailed but this trip opened a curtain for us on an enormous part of the world, an empire that at its peak was a sixth of the total world's land mass under Catherine II. Now, we are inspired to read everything we can on Russia's incredibly colourful history. Our reading list:
The State Hermitage Museum Foundation
of Canada Inc.
Russia Tour June 7 - 17, 2002
In front of the Peterhof Palace, St. Petersburg
Back row: Fred Valentine,
Bill Humphries, Rennie Humphries, Joe Frieberg,
Grant Reuber, Bob Kaszanits, Sherrill Owen,
Rosemary Barclay, Lorne Barclay, Phyllis Frieberg,
Tom Beck, Anna Dan, Leslie Dan
Front row: Al Green, Katie Valentine, Mandy Macrae, Malka Green, John Edwards, Bill Macrae, Simmie Antflick, Andrew Himmel
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Ottawa Chapter News
280 Metcalfe Street, Suite 400, Ottawa, ON K2P 1R7. Tel. (613) 236-1116. Fax (613) 233-5438
Hermitage Day Dinner
November 30, 2002
International Centre, Building H
Woodroffe Campus, Algonquin College
CANAPES: Salmon caviar and sour cream on blinis, Goose kabobs, Pelmeni meat and cheese. Served with a glass of champagne
APPETIZERS: Creamed mushrooms, Salmon marinated in birch syrup, Green bean and walnut salad
SOUP: Lamb broth with dumpling and garnish
SORBET: Lemon vodka
ENTREE: Coulibiac (Salmon with spinach, rice and dill in puff pastry, served with a glass of white wine)
ENTREE: Cerveni Jelen (Red deer) with pomegranate sauce and potato cakes (Served with a glass of red wine)
Vegetables: Cumin and orange carrots, Savoy cabbage sautéed in smoked bacon and riesling
DESSERT: Sour cherry cheese cake
Cost: $50/person (members), $60/person (non-members)
Time: 6:00 pm for canapes, silent auction, meeting and greeting, 7:00 pm for dinner.
Please sign up for this special event ASAP. Space is filling fast (sorry, it's full as of November 18th, but you can still put your name on the waiting list in case someone else cancels). Phone the Friends office at 613-236-116, or toll free at 1-866-380-6945 or E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Checks should be made payable to Canadian Friends of the Hermitage.
Since the ingredients for the main course have to be specially ordered in, please indicate whether you wish to have (choose one):
Coulibiac OR Cerveni Jelen
November 9, 16, 23 and December 7, 14: 11:00 - 12:30 in Room 156 of the National Library Images series of five lectures designed to complement the exposition of modern French masterworks, Voyage into Myth, to be shown at the Art Gallery of Ontario October 12, 2002 to January 5, 2003, and at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, beginning January 31, 2003.
* November 9: The Cultural Scene in Russia during the Reign of the last Tsar by John Felvinci, who has given lectures around the world on Russian history and culture in the years leading to World War I.
* November16: Why Cézanne by Rose-Ann Hoffenberg, docent at the National Gallery of Canada
* November 23: Symbolism and its Importance to the Nabi Movement by Sylvia Lillie, docent at the National Gallery of Canada
* December 7: Paul Gauguin by Rina Wright, docent at the National Gallery of Canada
* December 14: Pablo Picasso by Nancy Richardson, docent at the National Gallery of Canada.
|Cost:||$35 for series (available to members only);
$10 single lecture (members);
$15 single lecture (non-members);
$12 single lecture (members of the Friends of the National Library).
CALL 236-1116 TO RESERVE PLACES FOR ANY OF THESE
OTTAWA EVENTS. FAX 233-5438
OR E-MAIL email@example.com
Looking forward into 2003:
March: lecture and video on 19th Century Russia - the Glitter that was not Gold by Paul Francis, noted local historian.
February - April: day trips to Montreal to view Voyage into Myth.
May: International Museums Day lunch.
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Toronto Chapter News
50 Baldwin Street, Toronto, ON, M5T
1L4. Phone 416-979-0932, Fax 416-348-0438
The opening of the Hermitage exhibit "Voyage Into Myth" was big news in Toronto in October. Dr Mikhail Piotrovsky, the director of the Hermitage was in town and was kept busy. Many of the Friends and Board members of the Foundation met him or heard him speak at the Canadian Club meeting on Monday, the official opening at the AGO on Tuesday evening, the members' opening on Wednesday and at a lecture he gave later that evening giving the Russian perspective on "Who Owns Art". On Thursday morning he took us on a big screen virtual tour of the Hermitage at a breakfast meeting at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto.
Monday, November 18: A Gala Fundraiser for the State Hermitage Museum Foundation of Canada.
Join us for a Reception and Special Screening of "Russian Ark".
"Russian Ark" is a fascinating depiction of Russian history captured as a single-shot tour of the Hermitage Museum. It recently won the Independent Channel Visions Award at the Toronto Film Festival.
Tuesday, December 3: Celebrate Hermitage Day with a
Traditional Russian Buffet Dinner, with live Russian music in Festive
The Badminton and Racket Club
St. Clair Avenue W., Toronto
Time: 6:30 pm for 7:00 pm dinner
Tickets are $65.00 for members and for one guest per member; tickets for additional non members are $75.00 per person.
Hermitage Day Buffet Dinner Menu
|Appetizers:||Duck pate mousse|
Vodka marinated salmon with dill
Cucumber yogourt dip
Marinated baby eggplant with peppers
Eggs stuffed with herring
Russian potato salad
|Soup:||Potato, wild mushroom and bacon soup|
|Entrees:||Blini with lumpfish roe|
Beef Shashlik with onion sauce
Lamb and vegetable stew
|Desserts:||Sour cherry and cheese crepes|
Russian cranberry mousse
Fresh fruit and cheese
Mail ticket order and cheque to Canadian Friends of the Hermitage, 50 Baldwin St. Toronto, ON M5T 1L4.
Deadline for receipt of mail orders is Wednesday November 27, 2002.
Wednesday, January 22:
Corey Keeble, Curator of Western Art and Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum will give an illustrated talk on "Russia by River: Treasures and Pleasures along the Volga"
Mondays from January 27 - March 3:
Rick Phillips, Host of CBC Radio's "Sound Advice" and lecturer in music appreciation will present a six week lecture series on Russian music, two on symphonies, two on ballets, one on operas and one on piano compositions. The lectures will be held at the Royal Conservatory of Music, 273 Bloor St. W. from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m.
Cost: $100 for the full series of six lectures.
A professor from the Centre for Eastern European Studies will give us a lecture on the History of the Tsars in St. Petersburg. Full details of date and location will be sent out to Toronto members shortly.
March 24, 2003
The Kirov Orchestra with conductor Valery Gergiev will be returning to Roy Thompson Hall. We have arranged for specially priced tickets for our members to attend this popular concert. Details and order forms will be sent out.
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News from the American Friends
This fall, the American Friends of the State Hermitage Museum are presenting a series of four lectures on subjects related to the Hermitage:
Their Faces Were Full of Character: Vigee-Lebrun, Collot and Robertson Paint the Russian Royals. Speaker: Dr. Jontana Pomeroy (October 22)
The Hermitage's Diamond Room: Then and Now. Speaker: Dr. Geza von Habsburg (October 29)
Two Russian Collectors with Perfect Pitch: Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov. Speaker: Rosamond Bernier (December 3)
All That Glitters: The Treasures of the Hermitage. Speaker: Olivier Bernier (December 11)
And a special lecture on November 13 on The Art of Islam by Professor Mikhail Piotrovsky.
Their Winter/Spring 2003 Lecture Series will mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of St. Petersburg by presenting lectures that focus on this city's magnificent architecture and contribution to world culture.
20th Anniversary Gala Concert
As the Ottawa Youth Orchestra Academy enters its twenty-first year of operation under founding Music Director John Gomez, we invite you to a Gala Concert to be held Saturday, December 7th, 2002 at 7:30 pm at Centrepointe Theatre. The centerpiece of this event will be a concert given by the Orchestra conducted by John Gomez. The program will consist of works by three Russian composers, as well as a debut performance by Ottawa's Jim Watson as the narrator for Prokofiev's 'Peter and the Wolf'. Your ticket will also allow you to enjoy pre-concert performances by some of the other Academy ensembles, a post-concert reception, and many more activities directed by MC Suzanne Pinel.