Images of St Petersburg

The exhibition ‘Images of St Petersburg’, which includes over 100 photographs from the Hermitage collection, provides a unique opportunity to see life in St Petersburg in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when the city was still the capital and lively centre of the Russian empire. Visitors to St Petersburg will discover that in spite of revolution and war the centre of the city and the Hermitage were very well preserved, as can be seen in the historic photographs offering pleasantly familiar views in this 9th exhibition in the Hermitage Amsterdam.

The photography collection of the museum in St Petersburg is not nearly as well known as its world-famous painting collection. The Hermitage keeps a collection of over 40,000 photographs, which show the development of photography from around 1840 to 1920. The basis of the collection consisted of the large numbers of photographs from the private apartments and libraries of the Winter Palace, property of the last Tsars – Alexander III and Nicholas II – and their families. After the Russian revolution of 1917 these were supplemented by the nationalised photography collections originating from the palaces of families such as those of Counts Bobrinsky and Stroganov. This background explains why many of the photographs are portraits, but the collection also includes many city views and genre scenes; together they provide an incomplete but atmospheric picture of the thriving city of St Petersburg as it was about a hundred to a hundred and fifty years ago.

The invention of photography opened up a completely new artistic approach to the depiction of the city of St Petersburg and its character. The best photographers in Russia – some Russian, some European – came together in the capital in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They captured the beauty of the squares and avenues of St Petersburg, the river Neva and its banks, the city’s architecture and sculptures, its leading political and cultural figures. They also entered the city’s famous imperial and private palaces, where they photographed the interiors along with all their paraphernalia. They took pictures not only of official ceremonies and grand balls, but also of everyday scenes of a way of life now long gone. They photographed the city’s aristocratic and cultural elite – but also the middle classes and the poor.

The most famous of the St Petersburg photographers was Karl Bulla, the Court Photographer, who became known as the ‘godfather’ of reportage photography. The Hermitage has an outstanding collection of his work, part of which will be exhibited in Amsterdam. Bulla’s work combines a good sense of reportage and an artistic vision. It would be difficult to gain a true picture of life in St Petersburg around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries without the work of Bulla, who presents us with whole pages of the city’s history. We see the busy shopping street Nevsky Prospekt with people hurrying in different directions, horse-drawn trams rattling past, colourful poster columns and signs for shops and studios, banks and restaurants.

A few photographers were even given access to the imperial residence and the imperial museum. Photographs such as those of the Hall of Ancient Sculpture, the Gallery of Ancient Painting and the magnificent halls of Italian and Spanish Painting show how well preserved the museum is today.

Opening hours

Daily 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Closed on 25 December 2014 and 27 April 2015
Open on 1 January 11 a.m.- 5 p.m.

© State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

The Hermitage Amsterdam is located on Amstel 51, Amsterdam

Photo Janiek Dam

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+31 (0)20 530 74 88

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+31 (0)20 530 87 55

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