The State Hermitage Museum (the Hermitage), in St. Petersburg, Russia, is one of the great art museums of the world. It was founded in 1764 by Russian Empress Catherine the Great with the purchase of a large collection of Western European paintings. The construction of the first building to house the Hermitage was begun in 1764. This building was too small, because of the continued acquisition of large art collections from various Western European collectors. In 1787, the second building to house the Hermitage, the "Large Hermitae", was completed. This is one of the buildings that presently house the museum. The museum continued to expand physically through the middle of the 19th century. The buildings that house the museum are also works of decorative art, little expense was spared in their decoration.
Continuing with the pattern begun by Catherine the Great, the emperors who followed spent huge sums of money, purchasing many important collections. The collecting continued, even as the peasants were starving. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, most of the works of art in private collections were confiscated by the state, many of which went to the Hermitage. During the Soviet period, the scope of the collecting was limited to artists that were Russian or communist. Since the fall of communism, the Hermitage has been more open to the West, by loaning more works to western museums.
The scope of the collection, in numbers as well as quality, is amazing. There are two paintings each by Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael. The museum houses 22 paintings and 19 sketches by Pieter Paul Rubens. Anthony van Dyck, Rubens' pupil and contemporary, has 24 works in the Hermitage. There are 12 paintings by Poussin, 8 by Antoine Watteau, 37 by Henri Matisse, 9 by Caspar David Friederich, and 31 by Pablo Picasso. The Hermitage has about 20 paintings by Rembrandt van Rijn. Also in the Hermitage, and often overlooked, are some of the best works by Wassily Kandinsky and Kasimir Malevich.
The size and quality of the collection is like no other museum I have ever been in. The Hermitage is not merely filled with art by great artists, but great works by great artists. The quaity of the art is superb . One could easily spend a week there. Easily. The Hermitage, in my opinion, is the greatest single collection of art in the world.