cathyg1.jpg

Catherine the Great: The Hermitage at the AGO, Pt 1/5


Catherine the Great: Arts for the Empire opened at the Art Gallery
of Ontario
on Saturday. It’s the third AGO show to feature
masterpieces from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg,
Russia. Rubens and His Age and Voyage into Myth: French Painting
from Gauguin to Matisse
, visited the AGO in 2001 and 2002, respectively.

An exhibition of Tom Thomson, of Group of Seven fame, travelled to
Russia last year as part of the reciprocal agreement between the AGO
and the Hermitage. Not to put down local talent, but it looks like we got
the better end of the deal.

So who was Catherine, and what was so “Great” about her that she needs
her own exhibition?

Born a German princess in 1729, she was baptized Catherine in the
Russian Orthodox faith before marrying the heir to the Russian throne in
1745. Six months after her rather ineffectual husband became czar in
1761, Catherine lead a coup d’état. He was soon assassinated, and she
became empress.

During her reign, Catherine proved that female autocrats could be just as
horny and war-mongering as any man. She beat the Turks in two wars
and carved up Poland, too. She had a score of scandalous affairs,
including a long-term relationship with Grigory “It Takes a Village”
Potemkin, who was many years Catherine’s junior.

But Catherine was also a staunch supporter of the arts. She corresponded
with philosophes Voltaire and Diderot, established the Russian Academy,
and began collecting European Old Masters. Her thousands of paintings
became the nucleus of The Hermitage’s renowned collection. Catherine
the Great: Arts for the Empire
displays some of its best for
Torontonians.

Next week, we’ll take a closer look at the collections on display, starting
with the pieces that relate to Catherine the Great and the Russian Empire.

Image: Portrait of Catherine II (Detail)
Fyodor Stepanovich Rokotov (1735-1808) after
Alexander Roslin (1718-1793), 1780s
oil on canvas
© The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, 2005


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