The New Hermitage
The First Public Art Museum
Life in the Imperial Hermitage was governed by the Instruction on Maintenance of the Museum adopted in 1851. Here we read that the Museum was to be managed by the Minister of the Imperial Household, Adjutant General Count Adlerberg, acting under the direct authority of the Lord High Marshal of the Imperial Household, Count Shuvalov. The permanent staff of 31 oversaw a further 90 serving personnel. The Museum was subdivided into two departments:
The Instruction dealt with all spheres of life of the Hermitage including the question of admission of the public. Having founded the Museum and being aware of its public importance, Emperor Nicholas I wanted it to be open to everybody. He ordered the establishment of rules which stated that the collections of the Museum would be accessible not only for the experts and connoisseurs, but "for every individual with a ticket" issued by the court office of His Majesty.
When these rules were being discussed, Gilles expounded his thoughts in a note to the Lord High Marshal Shuvalov: "In Europe it is a common practice to display exceptional generosity in such cases, because only rich people can collect huge galleries like this.... But since the Hermitage is a private collection of the Emperor and the public is admitted there at the Imperial will with some restrictions and with tickets... the visitors should simply:
The visitors may address the curators... when they need to get any particular information. If the visitors justify their questions by real knowledge of the subject, the curators are obliged to demonstrate their respect to these needs."
The Rules were drawn up by the head of the Second Department of the Hermitage Feodor Bruni and dealt with the arrangement of the exhibits as well: "The paintings and portraits are arranged in the Hermitage galleries according to schools, artists and time of creation... so that they may have the most favourable surroundings."
Emperor Nicholas I every day from 1 till 2 p.m. directed the work of the commission that selected and arranged paintings, leading to curious exchanges:
"Had he decided that this or that picture belonged to a certain school, it was hard to reassure him of anything else.
In general the exhibition of art works was entrusted to the head of the Department, but first any plan was presented through the Lord High Marshal to the Minister of the Imperial Household for approval.
Apart from putting in order storage practices such as the compulsory sealing up of the cases with exhibits by curators, threaded inventory registers were introduced for the first time and copies were kept in the court office.
In a note entitled The Officials of the First Department of the Hermitage Gilles wrote: "The officials and the librarians ...are the immediate curators of the collections... The delicacy of their situation requires of them a combination of two qualities - knowledge of the subject and steadfast morality... An active intellect, together with the necessary knowledge to perform their duties, should be second nature to curators who hold office in the Hermitage. They should constantly strive to broaden their knowledge of the collections they are responsible for." The curators also had to compile a "detailed and accurate description (catalogue raisonné)" of their collections.
When the collections were originally arranged in the rooms of the New Museum, the first floor was taken by the picture gallery. Three Skylight Rooms housed the works of the Spanish, Italian and Flemish (mostly paintings by Rubens and Van Dyck) schools. The small studies housed an exhibition of Italian paintings, except for the first one, called the "Study of the Empress", that displayed a collection of gold articles from Kerch. In the studies located along what is now the Rembrandt Room, the French and German schools were displayed, followed by the Room of Snyders and a small room of Flemish art. Works of Dutch and Flemish painters were also displayed in the Tent Room, and where Rubens is now on display the pictures of Rembrandt used to be shown. The Russian school was represented in the two adjacent rooms. The large one displaying majolica also held a collection of cut gems.
It took 12 years from the moment when the construction of the museum building was completed and the first displays were arranged in the rooms to the time when the new museum structure of five departments and all the exhibitions were finally arranged. The number of visitors to the Hermitage increased many fold from the mid-1860s. One factor in this growing popularity was the free admittance to the Museum. By 1880, about 50, 000 people visited the Hermitage annually. Apart from the published catalogues, lists of the pictures in each room were printed and visitors were offered to use so-called "manual catalogues", which were glued to thick cardboard and had wooden handles.
In 1859 the future curator of the Hermitage Museum Andrei Somov published a little book entitled Paintings of the Imperial Hermitage. A few years later the writer Dmitry Grigorovich published in the magazine Otechestvennye Zapiski a guide-book to the Museum called A Stroll through the Hermitage. In the preface to this book, he wrote: "The significance of the Hermitage for Russia is proved by the fact that though till recently it was not widely accessible to the public and our society did not manifest a particular disposition to fine arts, nonetheless the Hermitage enjoys great popularity in our country. Just pronounce the word "Hermitage". In all the corners of Russia, everyone has already heard of it. Even those who have never visited St Petersburg ask about it."