Hermitage brings art's 'wild beasts' to Amsterdam

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Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, Soutine, Malevich, Kees van Dongen: all are leading lights of early 20th century French and Russian art. And they are all gracing Amsterdam's Hermitage museum with their presence this summer.

It was two textile merchants, Ivan Morozov and Sergei Shchukin, who first brought French modern art to Russia in around 1900. Russian artists drew inspiration from these modern masterpieces and their work also found its way into the textile merchants' collections.

The Morozov-Shchukin collections were confiscated after the Russian revolution of 1917. They now form part of the permanent collection of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. This summer they are being lent to the Hermitage's first international partner in Amsterdam.

Wild beasts
Around 75 paintings and sculptures will be on display in Amsterdam. They provide an impressive overview of the international group of artists who were at work in France around 100 years ago: Henri Matisse, Maurice Utrillo, Pablo Picasso, Chaim Soutine and Dutchman Kees van Dongen. They often worked with vivid colours and sharp contrasts, and felt no compulsion to represent shapes and figures as seen by the human eye. The advent of photography led them to conclude that it was no longer necessary to simply "paint what the eye could see".

The group's work unleashed highly emotional reactions at the time. They became known as "Les Fauves", French for wild beasts. Today these outlaws are very much part of the art establishment, as are their Russian contemporaries Kazimir Malevich and Vasily Kandinsky, who were inspired by them. Works by Malevich and Kandinsky will also feature in the Amsterdam exhibition.

Closed doors
Normally, visitors to Amsterdam can admire the work of these artists at the Stedelijk Museum. But as the museum's doors remain firmly closed due to a large-scale renovation that has been beset by repeated delays, the Hermitage provides a welcome alternative.


Matisse to Malevich - Pioneers of Modern Art from the Hermitage 6 March - 17 September 2010