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Masterpieces from the Hermitage Return to Britain

UK- King's Lynn | Jan 8 2013 | (23:13:23 - EDT)

Masterpieces by Rembrandt, Poussin and Velazquez are among a collection of over 40 works from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg which will travel to Britain for a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition at one of this this country’s finest historic houses, Houghton in Norfolk. The exhibition, "Houghton Revisited: The Walpole Masterpieces from Catherine the Great’s Hermitage" will go on show from May 17 to Sept. 2013.

The collection was originally brought together by Britain’s first prime minister, Robert Walpole (1676-1745), and sold to Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, in 1779. The paintings have not been seen in Britain for over 200 years, and they will be shown in the exhibition in their original settings at Houghton, the Walpole ancestral home in Norfolk.

One of the most famous art collections of eighteenth-century Europe, the exhibition will include masterpieces by Van Dyck, Poussin, Albani, Rubens, Rembrandt, Velazquez, Murillo and many others. The exhibition includes over 60 works from the Hermitage and other Russian museum as well as loans from the National Gallery, Washington and the Metropolitan Museum, New York. Also on show will be the Walpole Silver and works on paper.

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Houghton Hall is now the family seat of Sir Robert Walpole’s direct descendent, the 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley. It was designed by the most gifted architects of the day, Colen Campbell and James Gibbs, to house Walpole’s prized collection of Old Master paintings. The magnificent interiors and furnishings designed by William Kent are still intact; the exhibition will reproduce the original hang of the Grand Rooms,bringing them back to the splendour of two centuries before.

In its scale and ambition, the exhibition will be a fitting celebration both of 250th anniversary of Catherine the Great’s accession to the throne, and the long and distinguished history of Anglo-Russian cultural relations. This will be a unique opportunity to revisit a moment in British history of supreme diplomacy, shrewd dealership, lavishspending and exceptional collecting. The exhibition is a celebration both of the history of Houghton, and of the key role of this English collection in the initiation of the State Hermitage Museum.

Lord Cholmondely said: “It is a thrilling prospect to have the Walpole paintings back in their original positions at Houghton, thus recreating the interiors of State Rooms in their entirety; an idea that would have delighted past generations of my family. Our grateful thanks are due to the State Hermitage and other museums for agreeing to lend their masterpieces – perhaps the first time they have done so to a private house. We look forward to welcoming you to Houghton.”

All images copyright The State Hermitage Museum.

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