In 2008 the Hermitage started producing full scholarly catalogues of different parts of its varied collections. Alongside these, but funded separately with the support of the Hermitage Foundation UK, English translations of these ‘green catalogues’, as they are known, have been produced. The first catalogue to appear, that of the seventeenth-century Flemish paintings, set in train a publishing project with British support that has produced a number of important volumes, of which the catalogue of the French fifteenth- to seventeenth-century paintings is the latest. This important collection has never before been published in full and the catalogue would thus make a major contribution to the academic study of French painting and of the holdings of the Hermitage Museum.
Nearly 260 paintings will be included, from early works such as a fifteenth-century Entry of Christ into Jerusalem by the Master of the Thuizon Altar right through to the end of the seventeenth century. There are some 246 pictures from the main (historic) collection with the addition of 10 from the Special Collection (items removed from Germany at the end of the Second World War).
If some of the paintings – notably Poussin’s Landscape with Polyphemus and Tancred and Erminia, and Claude Lorrain’s series The Four Times of the Day – have been repeatedly published, many more remain little known or entirely unknown. The paintings from the Special Collection have not previously been published in any form and in an important innovation for Hermitage catalogues, the author plans to include several miniatures from the Hermitage’s small but precious (and unpublished) collection of portrait miniatures.
The collection of French painting of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries presents a cross- section of different genres: Biblical, mythological, historical, genre, landscape and still life and, as is to be expected with French art of this period, lots of portraits.
It also presents pictures that came from some of the most famous international and Russian collections. There are works commissioned by Poussin’s friend and patron Paul Chantelou; pictures that were owned by celebrated collectors such as Pierre Crozat and Jean de Jullienne in Paris, Sir Robert Walpole of Houghton Hall, Count Heinrich von Brühl of Dresden and the (infamous) ‘Duchess of Kingston’. There are paintings from the founding collection of the Hermitage picture gallery, that acquired in 1764 from Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. In the early nineteenth century came paintings from the collection of Empress Josephine at Malmaison.
As for Russian collections, some came as gifts from Ivan Shuvalov to the Academy of Arts in the eighteenth century, others belonged to Catherine the Great’s favourites Grigory Orlov and Grigory Potemkin; there are pictures from the noble family collections of the Princes Yusupov and Counts Stroganov, from Count Kushelev-Bezborodko and Pyotr Semenov-Tyan-Shansky, both of whom specifically wanted their collections to be accessible to the public after their death. There are paintings that once belonged to Agathon Fabergé, son of the jeweller Carl Fabergé. The most recent acquisition came from the art market in 2010.
The Russian-language version of the catalogue appeared in print in 2018, and the English translation is revised and includes updated literature and new work on several paintings by Poussin.
Natalia Serebriannaia is curator of French painting of the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries at the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersberg. Her career there has spanned over forty years, giving her unparalleled knowledge of the museum’s collection. She has previously written monographs on both Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain. Dr Catherine Phillips is an art historian who initiated the English-language publishing project for the Hermitage in 2003 and has translated several other volumes of catalogues for of the museum’s collection.