The Hermitage (2)

The book on the Hermitage is very good on the peculiar character and culture of curators, which in some ways was peculiar there because dealing with western European works of art was both necessary, but at the same time forbidden, and gave the privilege of travelling outside Russia. Of course, I now realise that the reason the Impressionists were in the attic was because they too were particularly disapproved of, relics of the State Museum of New Western Art which had been opened in Moscow in 1923 and closed by Stalin in 1948, half of it exiled to Leningrad.

There is a very good description of the difference between academic art history and the experience of art developed in a museum. ‘If you are in the slightest degree sensitive to art, then, when you carry this painting somewhere, when you look at it in inclined sunlight, look at the canvas’s backside, discuss it with restorers, these things turn out to transgress conceptual frameworks…The pieces are endlessly more complex. And all the considerations of style, of tendencies in history of art, are so helpless at explaining anything…’


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