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Culture news
Dutch Hermitage Draws Crowds
09.14.2004 15:23

dutch_hermitage By Sveta Graudt

Special to The St. Petersburg Times

Photo by Hermitage Amsterdam / For SPT

What Russia needed to offer Amsterdam was another embassy, thought Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage Museum. What he decided was that one of Russia's premier art museums should have a branch in the Dutch capital.

But he did not come up with the idea alone. In 1996, Ernst Veen, director of the Hermitage Amsterdam and the international exhibition center Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, suggested that the city would make an ideal location for the new Hermitage.

The timing and location could not have been better. The Amstelhof Foundation nursing home in central Amsterdam was in the process of moving to newer facilities, and its building, which was built in 1683, as well as other buildings on the premises, could be renovated into exhibition halls.

The relationship between Nieuwe Kerk and the Hermitage Museum dates back to 1994 when the two museums began sponsoring joint exhibitions.

At that time, Veen founded the Friends of the Hermitage Netherlands Foundation, which paid for several renovation projects at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

There were also other reasons why the directors of the Hermitage were happy to dust off their museum wares and send them abroad.

"What visitors see in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg is just five percent of what the museum holds in its reserves. It is the museum's policy to showcase as much of its collection as possible," said Svetlana Filippova, Friends coordinator at the Hermitage Museum.

"The museum's aim is to bring over temporary exhibitions of objects not found in the Netherlands, not just from the Hermitage but other Russian museums as well," Veen said. Various other Russian museums, including the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, have also made contributions.

Filippova said that the Hermitage Amsterdam does not intend to compete with other museums in the city. "It must complement and diversify the museum scene, not compete," she said.

The Hermitage Amsterdam opened in February of this year, and by June the number of visitors had already exceeded 70,000. Six exhibition rooms, occupying 500 square meters of floor space, are currently open to the public. The rest of the museum should be completed by the end of 2007, bringing the total exhibition space to 40,000 square meters, Veen said.

Although there is no exact data on the number of Russian visitors, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg recently received a request from the Hermitage Amsterdam to print Russian-language exhibition booklets due to visitor demand, according to Filippova.

Currently, the museum is exhibiting Greek jewelry dating from the sixth to the second century BC. An exhibition entitled "Nicholas and Alexandra, the last Tsar and Tsarina," documenting Russia's last royal family, opens on September 18. The museum also plans to exhibit the works of Venetian painters Tintoretto, Guardi, Canaletto and Tiepolo in 2005.

All exhibits in Amsterdam will be temporary because the works belong to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. In addition to the branch in Amsterdam, there are the Hermitage Rooms in London's Somerset House and the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Given that economic and cultural ties between the Netherlands and Russia span more than 300 years, the Dutch are understandably interested in traveling to Russia.

"They would love to come and see the mother museum now," Veen said. "Before perestroika we lived behind an iron curtain. We had no contact, no possibility to learn about each other."

Veen's estimated 20 visits to Russia have proven immensely enriching. "I left my heart in Russia," he said.

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