Day 15: The Hermitage is not for Hermits

The Hermitage is the revered museum in the world. There was always this nagging voice in the background after you’d “done” the Louvre, that there was another bigger and better collection somewhere east. For having acquired and displaying all the famous Western schools of art, from the Dutch Landscapes to Spanish portraiture to Italian Renaissance masters and beyond, the Hermitage is the big Kahuna.

Here are a few of the best. This is totally subjective, so you are in my hands.

Dresden Neumarkt, Bernardo Bellotto, 1720
Dresden Neumarkt, Bernardo Bellotto, 1720

Next… the rooms.

Then…my favorites. These have nothing to do with what’s important in history, but more to do with what I find unique from other museums I have seen. The only one I can relate to is the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. It had the replica of the Ishtar Gate there. It reminded me of the early beginnings of Western Art and examples of pre-European Art that I had never seen before.

For me, museum visits can be a religious, sublime experience. On the less raptured end, they can be pleasant visits where you come out feeling more informed or better connected to a particular culture. Once in awhile, it can be totally hideous. Our visit to the Hermitage unfortunately was in the latter category.

Gee Kin and I tried our best to tackle the Hermitage in a respectable way. However, the huge volume of cruise ship and foreign tour groups made it nearly impossible to see and enjoy the collection. There were more people taking selfies and photos in front of paintings than I can remember. I used to be annoyed by those using audio guides and standing in front of paintings as they listened to commentary. And I was one myself.

But these swarms of tourists take museum going to a new level. It makes you rethink your entire education and reason for going to museums in the first place. I have been to plenty of museums by now, and know that the quiet times are the best for viewing. But we failed to plan out our strategy, and at a moment of weakness decided to go in the afternoon instead of waiting for the following day.

And as for the experience….well, here are a few photos of what we went through to battle the crowds for a piece of the pie. Not pretty. These were were the forged battles that took place to see and appreciate the revered art I had learned as an undergrad. The pictures trace our experience– innocuous beginning, then quickly deteriorating to life in hell. H-E-L-P!!!!

In the end, I was satisfied with four hours and 4 miles (calculated on my Apple Watch) in the museum to see the pieces I did. As usual, Gee Kin had more questions than answers. His favorite piece was indicative of his experience at the museum.(See image below)


Aside from his getting chronic museum sickness, he continues to battle his problem without medication. Gee Kin thinks there are definitely better ways to give tourists without art training a quality experience.

When we took the kids through the Louvre a generation ago, I decided the best way for them to really see the voluminous collection was to focus on a few pieces that they could remember. I made a “scavenge hunt” of sorts for them. I seem to recall that one of the earliest and amazing internet sites was the material at the Alexandria Library in Egypt and the extensive art works that were catalogued there and available to the public. Remember Netscape and Mosaic, anyone?

On arrival at the Louvre, we broke into two teams and set a time limit and meeting point. Find the Venus of Milo, the Mona Lisa and a handful of other notable pieces. Gee Kin and I led our teams, ripping through the museum, literally racing. It didn’t matter what others thought of us. We wanted to win! Once we could find the handful on the list, we were exhilarated. Our girls vividly remember the fun we had at the Louvre, and the pieces they saw. Thankfully, they have each taken proper art history classes and got an understanding of the artwork they needed than from their schlocky mother. Melissa even majored in art history, so it couldn’t have been that bad an experience!

2 thoughts on “Day 15: The Hermitage is not for Hermits”

  1. amazing experience. Fun to read … but I can imagine how painful it was with all that crowd…. cannot wait to read more tomorrow …


  2. Despite the horror of crowds, it was still worth it. You have to get either (1) philosophical or (2) zen or (3) turn it on its head. I guess I did the latter and got giddy. Gee Kin kept asking about how the pieces were acquired so we have a lot of follow-up work to do. After my Getty Museum visit in August I read the book about the Museum Director Marion True and how she acquired some of the Greek Antiquities for the Getty Villa. It was scandalous and made you wonder how these museums develop their collections. I am now reading the labels that provide information on the acquisition of the piece, not just title and artist.


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