Art Notes: The Hermitage Rooms in Somerset House

Article excerpt

Eighteen months ago the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, opened its London showplace in Somerset House: five boudoir-like galleries and a corridor, which are capable of holding about seventy people when pressed. With a large staff and entrance fees discouragingly high for small exhibitions, the future of these Hermitage Rooms is regrettably unsure. It was therefore a self-defeating piece of parsimony for the Hermitage to send over for its latest exhibition, called The Genius of Caspar David Friedrich, only six oil-paintings and six sepia drawings by that austere and sometimes repetitious artist, accompanied by a detritus of Biedermeier sentimentality and Prussian militarism hardly worthy of the store-room of a provincial picture gallery. Amazingly, it includes twelve ephemeral gouaches by Adolph Menzel extracted from a picture-book to celebrate the birthday of an unmemorable Tsarina.

After Friedrich moved to Dresden from Greifswald on the Baltic coast in 1798, at the age of twenty-four, he assuaged his savage melancholy by tracking the scraped and rocky soil of the Riesengebirge Mountains nearby. He recorded their ridges and hoar-frosted ravines, seemingly troughs of cloud, themselves rolling with clouds until, their stunted trees tangled in mountain fog, they lapse into a pale horizon (Morning in the Mountains). …