A quiet day in the Hermitage’s east wing

The shock value of being in Russia has subsided, albeit only St. Petersburg we have visited. The absence of signs and tourist help in english is no longer a worry, thankfully the number system is the same which makes buying bus tickets and picking from restaurant menus somewhat less daunting.

From the cruise port we have learned to rely on the local bus system, as opposed to our sporadic crew shuttle, and the metro. In the subway stations and on the train is a museum in itself, quiet and severe glances from all directions. It is astounding how much the culture of the States has infiltrated this distant part of the world, NBA logos, Converse Chuck Taylor (8:10 white high tops), US university hoodies. As east and west intertwine more, the west has a loud voice which seems to drown out any differing opinions.

Anyhow, we arrive at the Hermitage with our internet-bought tickets (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! The ticket queue is at least 45 min) get a map and make a B-line for the East Wing: the relatively modern exhibits of the museum. To find the entrance is strangely confusing. Visitors enter thru glass sliding doors clearly reading “STAFF ENTRANCE”. Unintuitive much? The lack of advertising makes sense as the East Wing seems under-construction, stairways are closed off, most of the doors are shut, there are a good few baron rooms and many A4 printed at-home-styled signage.

The exhibits that are up and running, however, are oozing with cultural treasures. We start on the fourth floor; a Renoir masterpiece ‘Bal au Moulin de la Galette’ on loan from the Museé d'Orsay in its own room #dazzling (no photos allowed of traveling pieces), then we are hit by a room full of Matisse to make us love Crayola colours all over again, then a room of Derain, THEN the Picasso show starts, three rooms of it… The highlights of the collection are the works from his Blue Period (Two Sisters, Portrait of Soler) and when he ventured down Cubism alley. The pinnacle is reached at the Three Women, the visitor is lead thru the development of Picasso’s concept, from aggressive dismantling of the image, to mild distortion, to graceful pure expression.

Joni Mitchell said, “ 'Art’ is short for 'artificial’; Sometimes you have to lie to show the truth. When Van Gogh painted Starry Night the clouds weren’t nearly as swirling, the moon not nearly as bright.” Had ol Vincent done a Realism painting, I’d assume that to be much more limited and dull than his perception of the night. He just painted what he saw thru the lens of his emotion, just as Picasso did (and the many, many other masters). They were all liars showing their truth.

After that mouthful of delicious artworks we wander until we see a nondescript sign about some or other Sokolov Memorial something. “Okay, we may as well check it out”. We are lead thru corridors of what seem like empty offices, an opening and POW!! Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gaugain, Renoir, Boudin, Maurice Denis and more and more Impressionism than I can handle. The wonderful thing about the general absence of signage is the wonderful absence of crowds hustling you along. The hour and a half we we on the floor I noticed one tour group and no more than forty other visitors. As quiet as a library, no distractions, bliss. The view of the Hermitage Square rivaled some of the masterworks. All in all, a wonderfully peaceful day. And there was more to see.

The third floor has some of the local hero, Kandinsky, and the Classical and Renaissance art from France, Holland, England and Italy. Academically precise and powerful biblical/sovereign/military narrative. We got a little taste of royal, golden exuberance, some of the military garb (and I complain about my uniform, these dudes had to wear steel chest plates and funky hats everyday). Two and a half hours in a we are spent. And there is still another floor… We head shipward, well-rewarded.

Morale of the day: Follow signs even though at first glance they seem to lead to nothing special.