The present day Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg consists of the imperial Winter Palace and three adjacent buildings, conventionally called the Small Hermitage, the Old Hermitage, and the New Hermitage, united into one architectural ensemble by a series of covered passageways. Although some of the objects in its collections date from Peter I, the collection is generally regarded as being founded in 1764, when Catherine II acquired 225 pictures from the Berlin merchant Gotzkowsky. The collection was initially displayed in the rooms of the Winter Palace. Construction began that same year on the "Small Hermitage" (the name comes from the French "ermite," or recluse, hence hermitage, or place of refuge), built adjacent the Palace to house the collections and to be used by Catherine for unofficial receptions. Catherine II was responsible for tremendous acquisitions into what was then a private imperial collection, as well as for the construction of the Old Hermitage, erected in 1787. Numerous collections were purchased en bloc during the 18th century, including those of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Dresden, Count Brühl (1769), the Parisian collector Pierre Crozat (1772) and Sir Robert Walpole, Prime Minister to George I and George II, in London (1779). By 1785, the imperial collection included 2658 pictures, as well as additional prints, drawings, coins, medals and applied arts. After Catherine's death in 1796, her successors continued to acquire works for the collection, but at a lesser pace. Large acquisitions included the Empress Josephine's Malmaison gallery (1814), Spanish paintings from the collection of the English banker Coesvelt (1815), and works purchased from the Barbarigo Palace in Venice (1850). It was Nicholas I, who reigned from 1825-1855, who transformed the private imperial collection into a public museum. After a disastrous fire in 1837, in which the interior of the Winter Palace was almost completely destroyed, Nicholas I ordered is restoration and the construction, beginning in 1840, of the New Hermitage. After twelve years of work, the collection was opened to the public on 5 February 1852. In 1853, Nicholas sold 1219 of the 4552 paintings. His successor, Alexander II, had a limited impact on the museum, as it was independently administered during his reign (1855-1881). Between 1910 and 1932 the Hermitage doubled the number of its pictures, both through purchases and through the nationalization of private collections following the October Revolution of 1917. Notable collections assimilated include those of the Yusopov, Shuvalov, and Stroganov families, as well as collections consolidated from other imperial palaces. At this time, the Winter Palace became part of the public exhibition space, and the institution became known as the State Hermitage Museum. The Soviet government organized both public and private sales from the collection, both as a means of culling its enormous size and of raising capital. Sales were held at the Richard Lepke Gallery in Berlin in 1928 and in 1930-1931 in Leipzig. Private transactions included the acquisition by banker Andrew W. Mellon of 21 paintings, now in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, including van Eyck's Annunciation, Chardin's House of Cards, Botticelli's Adoration of the Magi, Raphael's Alba Madonna, and works by Hals, van Dyck, Rembrandt, Titian, Velazquez and others. The State Hermitage Museum was the foremost museum in the former Soviet Union, and ranks today as one of the world's outstanding art collections. [Compiled from sources and references recorded on CMS]
Descargues, Pierre. The Hermitage Museum, Leningrad. New York, 1961
Voronikjina, L. The Hermitage Guidebook. Leningrad, 1968
Persianova, O. The Hermitage Room-to-Room guide. Leningrad, 1975 (translated by John S. Heyes).