12 most famous paintings of the Hermitage

Review of the best according to the editorial board. On the selection criteria. This material is subjective, does not constitute advertising and does not serve as a purchase guide. Before buying, you need to consult with a specialist.

The Hermitage Museum located in St. Petersburg is a real palace of art, within the walls of which many priceless masterpieces are kept. It is one of the five largest and fifteen most visited art museums on the planet. The Hermitage was created by Empress Catherine II as a private imperial collection and was initially housed in a special small annex. This is where the name comes from, as translated from the French Hermitage (ermitage) means “a place of solitude.” Over time, the collection grew significantly, and in 1852 it was made available to the general public. To date, the number of exhibits in the museum, which consists of five buildings, exceeds three million. The collection of paintings, which includes works by the best artists from different countries and eras, is of particular value. Below are twelve famous paintings that can be seen in the Hermitage.

Review of the most famous paintings of the Hermitage

Nomination a place Composition rating
Review of the most famous paintings of the Hermitage 1 “Apostles Peter and Paul”, El Greco 5.0
2 “Madonna Conestabile”, Raphael Santi 4.9
3 The Absinthe Drinker, Pablo Picasso 4.8
4 Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn 4.7
5 “Woman holding a fetus” by Paul Gauguin 4.7
6 “Composition VI”, Wassily Kandinsky 4.7
7 The Lady in Blue by Thomas Gainsborough 4.7
8 “Waterloo Bridge. Fog Effect”, Claude Monet 4.6
9 “Portrait of the Actress Jeanne Samary”, Pierre-Auguste Renoir 4.5
10 “The Lute Player”, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio 4.5
11 “Danae”, Titian Vecellio 4.5
12 “Madonna Benois” by Leonardo da Vinci 4.5

“Apostles Peter and Paul”, El Greco

Rating: 5.0

Apostles Peter and Paul

The works of the artist under the pseudonym El Greco, whose real name is Domenikos Theotokopoulos, are distinguished by their individual style. They mixed the features of mannerism and expressionism of the period of the Spanish Renaissance. It is believed that the painter was one of the first to paint the apostles Paul and Peter together. The canvas depicts the opposition of the characters and the spiritual world of these two most important Christian figures. This contrast allowed the language of art to convey important religious problems of that time. Paul is shown as a strong, decisive personality, his hand rests imperiously on Holy Scripture, his gaze betrays unshakable, almost fanatical confidence. In contrast, Peter is the personification of reflection and inner doubt. This interpretation was significantly different from the church norms of the late 16th century, when the picture was painted, but on the whole it was quite consistent with the Gospel. The apostle Peter was known for his inconsistency, while Paul, being at first a fierce persecutor of Christians, later became an equally fierce champion of Christianity.

The difference in the mindset of the apostles is emphasized not only by their facial expressions and postures, but also coloristically. The artist highlighted the image of Paul with the help of striking dark red clothes, and his face also has a more intense, lively color. In general, the composition creates an atmosphere of exaltation and anxiety, characteristic of all the creativity of the temperamental El Greco.

“Madonna Conestabile”, Raphael Santi

Rating: 4.9

Madonna Conestabile

This is one of the earliest works of the famous Italian Renaissance painter, he painted it around the age of 20, while staying in the city of Perugia. The customer for the painting was Duke Alfano di Diamante. Initially, it was simply “Madonna and Child”, the modern name was given to it on behalf of the owner, Giovanni Conestabile, who inherited the canvas along with the luxurious palazzo. The masterpiece came to Russia thanks to Emperor Alexander II, who bought it as a gift for his wife Maria Alexandrovna.

The lyrical female image of a mother holding a child in her arms is presented against the backdrop of the hilly landscape of Umbria (a region of Italy adjacent to Tuscany). The figure of the Madonna with smooth lines covered with a veil of the shoulders looks perfect in the frame of a round picture. The composition looks very holistic and harmonious due to the unification of the direction of the characters' views – and the mother and baby are both looking at the book. It is assumed that creating this work, Raphael drew inspiration from the memories of the nature of his native places and his early dead mother.

The Absinthe Drinker, Pablo Picasso

Rating: 4.8

Absinthe drinker

At the beginning of the 20th century, the theme of vice and addictions was quite popular in French painting, especially absinthe. An extremely strong, hallucinating drink has become a real fetish of the Parisian beau monde. In addition, the twenty-year-old artist just had a “blue period”, during which he wrote mainly scenes filled with loneliness and emptiness. The main character of the picture is shown in all the ugliness of a person who has chosen the path of self-destruction. She sits in a corner, fenced off from everyone, her only companions are a blue siphon and a glass of green drink. There is a mirror on the wall behind her, where the bright outside world is reflected, but the woman prefers her own fantasies and hallucinations, generated by the action of intoxicating alcohol, to him.

The drama of the plot is enhanced by the distorted, overly long fingers with which the absinthe drinker covers herself, as if trying to protect her illusions from reality. Frozen in an unnatural pose, she seemed to have turned into an inanimate object, becoming related with the bottle and glass standing on the table. This symbolism is transmitted both in colors and in similar outlines of a woman and absinthe appliances.

Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

Rating: 4.7

Return of the prodigal son

Rembrandt created a large number of paintings on biblical themes, but one of the most recognizable is the plot of the repentant prodigal son, who returned to his father after spending all his property. This masterpiece was written in the late period of the artist's work, who put into it not only the accumulated experience, but also the emotions from the loss of his son Titus. The main characters on the canvas are not centered, instead they are masterfully highlighted with light. This is a kneeling son and a father bowing to him, whose whole posture and facial expression indicate absolute forgiveness. The contrast between the rich attire of family members and the extremely poor attire of a son brought to complete poverty is clearly visible.

The picture focuses the viewer's attention not so much on the event as on the emotional experiences of the participants in this family drama. In addition to the father and son, the canvas depicts four more people, whose personalities still remain a mystery. Rembrandt's creation in 1967 served as an inspiration for the famous British composer Benjamin Britten, who, having seen him only once during a tour of the then Soviet Hermitage, wrote the musical opera Prodigal Son a short time later.

“Woman holding a fetus” by Paul Gauguin

Rating: 4.7

Woman holding fetus

The painting is also titled “Eu haere ia oe”, which means “Where are you going?” and is essentially a phrase that the Tahitians used to greet each other when they met. Gauguin wrote it during his stay in Polynesia, where he came in search of inspiration and harmony with nature. Exotic vegetation, full of bright colors, island life and unique culture made a huge impression on him. But the artist was especially admired by Tahitian women who were very different from European women in their simplicity and primitive grace. One of these local residents is depicted in the foreground of the painting, with a greenish fruit in her hands (most likely, it serves as a vessel for water). Two others are sitting near the huts, another is watching from a distance, holding a child in her arms. This is a common episode from the daily life of the islanders, but in it Gauguin sees the embodiment of the natural rhythm of nature.

The desire to convey the beauty of exotic and almost untouched by civilization places led to a departure from almost all the traditions and rules of traditional painting. The individual style created by the artist assumed generalization, transfer of forms and light with a minimum of means. The vibrant color palette of the canvas reflects the atmosphere of a sultry tropical day. And the calm, relaxed postures of people and the leafy patterns on their clothes symbolize a spiritual relationship with the environment in which they live.

“Composition VI”, Wassily Kandinsky

Rating: 4.7

Composition VI Wassily Kandinsky

Kandinsky was one of the first abstract artists in the world. The contribution of the Russian artist to the development of this direction of painting is so great that a separate hall in the Hermitage has been allocated for his work. Created in 1913, “Composition VI” is one of the most interesting works, bright colors and sweeping free strokes perfectly reflect the dynamics of the stormy beginning of a new era in the art of the 20th century. Initially, the concept of the canvas was formed after writing a sketch on the theme of the biblical flood. However, later Vasily decided to abandon the idea of ​​binding to a specific event, leaving the viewer to independently interpret both the meaning and the emotional component.

The non-objective world of the picture appears in the form of a rhythmic alternation of bends, lines and color spots. According to the artist himself, there are two compositional centers on the canvas: pink on the left, around which blue “waves” are foaming, and red-blue, with rough, sharp lines. The alternation of rough and smooth sections of the canvas, as well as the balancing of mutually contradictory elements, made it possible to achieve the integrity of the abstract plot.

The Lady in Blue by Thomas Gainsborough

Rating: 4.7

Lady in blue

This painting is rightfully considered the best property of the collection of English painting kept in the Hermitage. Despite Gainsborough's fascination with landscape subjects, he became known primarily for his sophisticated romantic portraits. According to popular belief, the canvas depicts the Duchess Elizabeth Beaufort, daughter of Admiral Boscawen. The main feature of the artist was that he sought to convey not only beauty, but also the mood, individual character traits of the model, to make the image as alive as possible. There is no excessive stiffness inherent in the Baroque era in his works. The picture is distinguished by a harmonious color scheme, combining shades of blue and gray. It was painted with light strokes, different in density and shape, sometimes so thin that the canvas fabric shines through the paint.

Particular attention is drawn to a tall and complex wig, which occupies a significant part of the composition – the author has drawn with particular care this element of the female image, fashionable in the 18th century. The hat with ostrich feathers is also a tribute to fashion, as well as the use of white powder to matte the neck, shoulders and even the chest, since the pallor of the skin was considered an integral attribute of the aristocracy.

“Waterloo Bridge. Fog Effect”, Claude Monet

Rating: 4.6

Waterloo bridge in cloudy weather

The French artist Claude Monet was one of those who stood at the origins of the impressionist direction of painting, extremely popular in the 20th century. He began his cycle of paintings, united by the theme of London's Waterloo Bridge, during his stay at the Savoy Hotel, which overlooked the Thames. An experimenter and avant-garde advocate, Monet often explored the possibilities of conveying various atmospheric conditions using paints. And of course, he did not miss the opportunity to capture the famous fog that envelops the capital of Great Britain. Having started in London, the artist finished the work already in his French workshop, from memory, while conveying not so much the outlines of the city and the river as his own emotions from the landscape he loved.

The picture of Claude Monet is best viewed from a distance – then the chaotic at first glance kaleidoscope of strokes magically turns into a bridge and the waters of the Thames with fog swirling over them, factory chimneys and silhouettes of floating boats become clearly visible. The color scheme is clearly dominated by lilac and shades of blue – thus the author decided to convey the atmosphere of melancholic London, immersed in fog.

“Portrait of the Actress Jeanne Samary”, Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Rating: 4.5

Portrait of the actress Jeanne Samary

Portraits of women were the most important part of Renoir's creative work. He is widely known for his series of paintings with the actress Jeanne Samary, who lived near the artist and willingly came to him to pose. In total, four portraits were created, differing from each other compositionally and coloristically. This painting is considered one of the most impressionistic works of Renoir. She is characterized by a free style on the verge of negligence, with the help of which the atmosphere of freshness, youth and easy femininity of the model is conveyed. It is worth noting that the author slightly embellished Jeanne's appearance in order to convey her inner charm and love of life on the canvas.

After the painting was shown at the third exhibition of the Impressionists, it caused a great stir, and most of the viewers were more inclined to criticism. And it is not surprising, because at the end of the 19th century, decorative, romantic painting was still in demand, and impressionism was just a nascent trend. Moreover, his chosen combination of a green dress on a pink background was considered inappropriate. However, in a narrow circle of connoisseurs, the artist's courage, following not traditions, but his own feelings, met with a positive response.

“The Lute Player”, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

Rating: 4.5

Lute player

“The Lute Player” is one of Caravaggio's early works, executed at the end of the 16th century by order of the patron of his work, Cardinal Francesco del Monte. The painting depicts a young man sitting at the table, who accompanies himself on the lute. Because of the soft, androgynous features of his appearance, for many years he was mistaken for a girl, the canvas was even exhibited in a museum called “The Lute Player”. According to many art historians, the main character was painted with Mario Minniti, a young Sicilian artist. An indirect proof that Caravaggio drew a young man is the music book, opened on the bass part of Jacob Arcadelt, popular in those years, “Voi sapete ch’io vi amo” (you know that I love you). A woman would hardly have chosen such a melody, let alone the fact that the lute was traditionally considered a male instrument.

A distinctive feature of the artist's style was the skill of handling chiaroscuro, and here you can see his favorite technique – to snatch a composition out of the twilight with a single source of light. All objects reflect the glare falling on them in strict accordance with the laws of physics. This credibility was probably a consequence of Caravaggio's close communication with prominent scientists, including Galileo Galilei and Giovanni Batista della Porta, the author of a scientific work on refraction. The semantic meaning of the picture, according to the popular version, lies in the simultaneous praise of the harmony of life and sadness about its transience. The author wrote two more versions of this work, one of them is now kept in the New York Metropolitan Museum, the second – in the British residence of Badminton House.

“Danae”, Titian Vecellio

Rating: 4.5

Danae Titian Vecellio

The Venetian artist of the High Renaissance, Titian, in his work, more than once turned to the themes of ancient mythology. He wrote the painting “Danae” for the King of Spain. Its plot is based on an ancient Greek legend about the daughter of Acrisius, king of Argos. Having heard the prediction of the court oracle about death at the hands of his own grandson, the king imprisoned his only daughter in an impregnable tower, where no mortal could reach. However, the powerful god Zeus, captivated by her beauty, managed to penetrate to Danae in the form of a golden rain. As a result of this connection, the demigod and ancient hero Perseus was born.

The artist portrays Danae as calm and majestic, she accepts the love of a celestial without fuss or even surprise. The girl's face is partially covered with shadow, but the curves of her body, on the contrary, are flooded with soft golden light. This painting by Titian is a kind of hymn to sensuality and feminine beauty. The painter himself called her a poem on canvas.

“Madonna Benois” by Leonardo da Vinci

Rating: 4.5

Madonna Benoit

The painting, also known as “Madonna with a Flower”, got its name from its last owners – the Russian dynasty of artists and collectors Benoit. This work was created by the brilliant Italian master of painting when he was 26 years old, at that time he had already completed his studies with Andrea Verrocchio. The Madonna theme was in demand in art long before Leonardo, but he managed to breathe new life into a widespread biblical story. Rejecting the ideal and majestic, but lifeless appearance, the artist shows the world an earthly Madonna, absorbed in the joy of motherhood. Her youthful face is adorned with a smile that was previously considered inappropriate in the guise of the mother of Christ. Mary holds out a cruciferous flower to her son, symbolizing the crucifixion. But despite the religious meaning, this is primarily a story about a happy family life and the desire to know the world.

The canvas composition contains two light sources. One of them is a small window behind the Madonna, but the main light is pouring from the top left, with which the artist “snatches” the figures out of the twilight of the room and gives them volume with an excellent play of light and shade. The painting was painted with oil paints, which made it possible to convey in detail and realistically the smallest features of the texture of fabrics. The oil painting technique was an innovation for Italy in the late 15th century, and da Vinci was one of the first to use it in his works.


Attention! This rating is subjective and does not constitute an advertisement and does not serve as a purchase guide. Before buying, you need to consult with a specialist.

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