On 29 June 2019, the 14th traditional charity reception took place in the Winter Palace. Its main theme was Russia’s Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, where the State Hermitage is acting as curator this year.
The guests saw those masterpieces in the museum’s collection that inspired Alexander Sokurov and Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai to come up with the concept for the pavilion. As the Hermitage Director Mikhail Piotrovsky observed:
“A great film director, the finest artists and sculptors, students of the Academy of Arts, as well as cultural event managers, educators, decorators, lawyers, financial analysts… have succeeded in conveying, each in their own way, the three most notable qualities by which our museum is recognized: it is very much like a shrine, it is a spiritual place, and it is exciting and fun.”
Through the portico of the New Hermitage with its granite Atlantes, a cast of one of whose legs became a sort of epigraph to the display at the Biennale, the guests of the reception proceeded to the Welcome Cocktail by "The Venetian Column". The six-metre column topped by the figure of the Lion of Saint Mark was created by Shishkin-Hokusai in his favourite material – plywood and set up by the Nicholas Staircase for this one evening only.
A stroll through the halls of 17th-century Flemish art served as a reminder that it became the basis for Shishkin-Hokusai’s installation in Venice –"the Flemish School". A virtual tour of the Russian pavilion provides an opportunity to compare the original pictures with the artist’s interpretation of them.
Rembrandt’s "Prodigal Son", which is on the list of the greatest works of art of all times and all peoples, has in recent years become the foremost picture in the Hermitage. It was to that work that Alexander Sokurov addressed himself in his "Dedication to Rembrandt". Specially for this installation, Andrei Sigle composed Rembrandt. Fantasies, which in the film director’s words “creates an almost ‘biblical’ atmosphere.” That piece could be heard in the Rembrandt Hall, performed by the Russian Horn Orchestra and the Symphony Orchestra of Saint Petersburg.
In the Pavilion Hall of the Small Hermitage, in keeping with tradition, a fascinating spectacle awaited the guests that never fails to delight adults and children – "the Peacock Clock", the world’s only functioning large 18th-century automaton that has come down to the present unaltered.
One of the central events of the evening was the awards ceremony for the presentation of the “Artist in the Hermitage” commemorative badge that is given to artists who have been accorded the honour of exhibiting in the celebrated museum. This year awards were granted to Alexander Sokurov and Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai. The assembled company also welcomed the Guest of Honour of the reception, Cathelijne Broers, Director of the Hermitage–Amsterdam Centre, which marked its 10th anniversary this year.
The celebrations continued with dinner in the Jordan Gallery and a ball in the Field Marshals’ Hall, events that recreated the atmosphere of the legendary feasts in Venetian palazzi at the time of the Most Serene Republic.
During the evening, the guests were able view the exhibitions “A Forgotten Russian Patron. The Collection of Count Pavel Sergeevich Stroganov” in the Nicholas Hall of the Winter Palace and “Max Ernst. The Paris Years” in the Twelve-Column Hall of the New Hermitage.
The masked ball was held in the Field Marshals’ Hall. Participating were soloists from the Mariinsky Theatre, Oksana Shilova and Yekaterina Sergeyev, and the Taurida International Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mikhail Golikov. The leader of the ball was Natalia Berezhnova, a Champion of Russia in ballroom dancing.
The Angiolini Baroque Ballet performed extracts from the ballet Le carnaval de Venise in the chorography of Klaus Abromait to music performed by the Soloists of Catherine the Great ensemble. This troupe now ranks among the best European companies recreating the dance idiom of pre-classical eras. The costumes for the performance were created by the brilliant St Petersburg couturier Larissa Pogoretskaya. The stage director of the Gala Reception for many years now has been Sofia Streisand.
The gala evening was visited by Alexander Beglov, Acting Governor of Saint Petersburg. The guests this year included Princess Dorrit Romanov, members of the State Hermitage’s Board of Trustees, directors of leading Russian and foreign museums and businesses, representatives of show business and the media.
The donations collected will go to the State Hermitage’s endowment fund. The income from this special-purpose capital is used to expand the museum’s stocks.
Support for the evening was provided by the Festival Diaghilev. P.S., the DLT department store, the Hennessy Cultural Foundation, and Yandex.Taxi.Ultima.