HERMITAGE MUSEUM, St Petersburg
Visit, September 2012
I was lucky enough to visit the above for a second time during September 2012, my first visit was in 1993. Anyone who has been there will know that tour groups are strictly controlled. However, I was able to explain to the guide that I had visited the Hermitage before and really only wanted to see the paintings and that I knew where the gallery was. She very kindly permitted me to leave the group. When I arrived in the gallery it was completely empty of visitors so I was able to view and photograph some 38 of the exhibits.
One of the paintings which I had seen illustrated many times was really exciting in it’s colour. It was Winter Landscape by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) painted in 1909. The vividness of the colour made it look almost luminescent. It seemed small, though measurements are given as 75.5 x 97.5 (29” x 38”) This would have been a painting of snow yet the colours are vivid and there is virtually no white at all. Blues, yellows, pinks and greens dominate the canvas. It is interesting to see the beginnings of abstraction in the work. The canvas is almost divided vertically into thirds within which areas one can almost see individual compositions. These are divided again, on the right, by half horizontally and on the left almost into one third and two thirds. The top left “square” again almost forms a picture in itself and becomes quite abstract. A road with trees in the centre “third” is virtually the only element of perspective, most other areas are rendered flat. (you may need to paste the links into your browser)
http://www.wassilykandinsky.net/ then search for Winter Landscape
Another work which indicates early signs of abstraction is The Luxembourg Gardens (2901) by Henri Matisse (1869-1954) 59.5 x 81.5cm (23” x 32”)
Like the Kandinsky, there is a road leading into the picture, which again is more or less the only element of perspective in the picture. The trees and shrubs are rendered fairly flat and the composition is almost abstract particularly on the right hand side. Patches of colour are occasionally outlined but the whole composition is reliant on colour and colour relationships which are conceived in terms of contrasts. The green on the right is contrasted with the red on the left. The centre is a mixture of yellow/ blue, orange and purple. The related purple/red of the overhanging branch in the middle ties everything together, and the colour is used sparingly in other parts of the painting and achieves the same stabilizing effect. Colours are used almost arbitrarily in an abstract way to produce a design or composition that pleases the eye. Thinking back to my research into colour and Edith Anderson Feisner’s book on Colour, the proportions used by Matisse are more or less equivalent, i.e. Yellow 4, Blue 9; Purple 8 Orange 3; Red 6, Green 6. The tonal relationships are almost inverse to what one would expect with the distance being darker than the foreground, which eliminates perspective, as indeed abstraction does. The objects become shapes on which to drape colour, not realist representations.
I felt like a child in a sweet shop on the occasion of my visit and it was a sheer delight to view the gallery unhindered by other spectators.