This year both Melbourne and Sydney have major exhibitions of ‘modern masters’. The big Winter show from New York, MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern & Contemporary Art has just closed; meanwhile Masters of modern art from the Hermitage has now opened at the Art Gallery of NSW. These two exhibitions complement each other; viewers who have seen both will have enjoyed particularly rich experiences. The Hermitage collection focuses on the European masters of the late 19th century and the early 20th century, reflecting the idealism and confidence of that period. Among them are Monet, Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso and Gaugin together with their Russian contemporaries Kandinsky and Malevich. There are 65 paintings in all from the Hermitage’s modern collection in St. Petersburg.
The Hermitage is daunting to visitors with its 17,000 paintings, tens of thousands of drawings and sculptures, and hundreds of thousands of works of applied art and archaeological objects. Catherine the Great began collecting contemporary art of her period, followed in particular by Nicholas I and by Alexander III. The current exhibition has a cohesion because over two thirds of the works are from the collections of two wealthy Moscow businessmen Sergey Shchukin and Ivan Morozov who championed the French modern masters, buying them as radical contemporary pieces. They had an impact on young Russian artists of the day. They are here until 3 March.