Considering our fourth annual tour? Don't wait! Let us know of your interest. We are already receiving calls from across Canada, as news spreads of our unique tours to Russia, and of our privileged access, as Canadian Friends, to THE STATE HERMITAGE MUSEUM, when it is closed to the general public.
Every year, our tour offers something new for our repeat visitors. In Moscow, we'll be staying within easy walking distance of the Kremlin, which houses many stunning exhibits, including the spectacular Romanov crown jewels. The Pushkin Museum's western art includes an impressive collection from French Impressionists to Modern Art, and the Tretyakov Gallery traces the development of Russian art and culture through the ages. For opera lovers, there will be a concert in the home of Fyodor Shalyapin, amidst the family treasures.
An excursion to Sergiev-Posad will take us to the centre of Russian Orthodoxy, where the architecture is exceptionally beautiful. The Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius holds great treasures and artifacts of Russian heritage.
This year we focus on Peter the Great, as his creation, St. Petersburg, celebrates its 300th Anniversary.
From his Peter and Paul Fortress to his dazzling Versailles-like Peterhof, you will step back in time. Visit other exquisitely furnished royal palaces, set in picturesque parks, as well as the historic Yusopov Palace where, after several attempts on his life, the sinister monk Rasputin finally met his death.
In this home town of the HERMITAGE, the Kirov ballet and the Mariinsky Theatre, architecturally magnificent buildings, line the River Neva embankments and winding canals. Here music, art and fine cuisine combine to make the perfect Russian experience.
An added bonus is the choice of a stop-over in Prague on the return journey, which must be requested at the time of booking.
For a brochure, information and to book, please call Jean Sheikh, Executive Worldwide Travel at 613-236-5555, toll-free 1-800-267-5552, or E-mail [email protected].
The screening of Russian Ark at the National Library in Ottawa on 8 February was a great success. The event was co-sponsored by the Friends, the Canadian Film Institute and the Embassy of the Russian Federation. The house was full and a number of people had to be turned away. Ambassador Churkin offered some comments on Alexander Sokurov, the film's director, and noted that Russia has many other treasures, besides the Hermitage, to appeal to art-lovers.
For those in the Ottawa area who missed the film the first time around, or who would like to see it again, please note that it will be showing at the ByTowne theatre from 17-27 April. In Toronto, it opens at the Varsity from 7 March. It will open in Vancouver at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas on March 28th. The film opened in Montreal at the Ex-centris cinema on February 22nd.
Toronto members will remember that, at the Russian Ark fund-raiser, Professor Kenneth Bartlett of the University of Toronto offered his personal view of the film. Professor Bartlett has generously shared the text of his remarks with us, and we attach a copy of them here.
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Russian Ark is a film that functions on several levels simultaneously. From one perspective, it is the ultimate example of an auteur movie in which the vision and objectives of its director, Alexander Sokurov, emerge. It is an experimental essay on a difficult subject, filmed in a single take of 99 minutes, with the cameraman following the leading character through over 33 rooms of the Hermitage Palace in St. Peterburg, Russia. Equally, it is a meditation on Russian history and culture, in which the Hermitage becomes, in many ways, the protagonist, the factor that unites the complex, often sordid and always dramatic, history of the Russian people. It is a model not of life mirroring art but of art as life itself. However, to grasp Russian Ark on this level, more information is required than Sokurov provides, or than most North American audiences enjoy.
The film is held together by three forces working closely together: the spy - the point of view of the audience - represented by the camera; the historical character of Astolphe, Marquis de Custine, with whom the spy silently converses; and the Hermitage itself, representing the burden and hope of Russian culture. Of these, the necessary elements to explore are Custine and the Hermitage.
Astolphe de Custine was chosen as the golden thread woven through the entire tapestry of the film because of his enormously influential 1839 publication, Empire of the Czar, which records his travels through Russia. The book reflected not only Custine's privileged experiences in the Russia of Nicholas I - he was, after all, travelling under the czar's protection - but his own family's past which, in turn, determined the marquis's personal perspective. Custine was the son and grandson of liberal aristocrats who, nevertheless, both fell prey to the guillotine during the French revolution. Young Astolphe and his mother survived, despite terrible suffering, largely because of his mother's heroism and acceptance of deprivation to save her son. These events turned Custine in a conservative, who saw in democracy the seeds of the revolution that had destroyed his family. He thought royal authoritarianism was the best protection against the violence and anarchy of the mob.
That was, at least, until his visit to Russia. It was in that empire that Custine saw the dangers in autocracy and became aware of the need to balance the ignorance and inefficiency that resulted from an omnipotent ruler and an oppressed people. This experience in Russia was then recorded not as the Czar expected - an encomium of enlightened despotism - but a call for some measure of civilized control and shared power. Custine's 1838 visit to Russia, then, was a kind of conversion that produced a far more sophisticated analysis of politics and society than either the marquis or his hosts anticipated. Furthermore, it is important to know that Custine was a revolutionary in other spheres of his life, characteristics which could prepare him for this deeper appreciation of the subtleties of Russian society. Custine was an open, practising homosexual in a world where one of his rank and position was required to lead, at best, a double life. The marquis cohabited openly with another man and did nothing to disguise the fact, one of the first recorded French aristocrats to do so. Custine was, therefore, an outsider on his Russian travels from two points of view: first as a foreigner, second as one who refused to be controlled by accepted social rules. He is consequently a splendid example for Sokurov to have chosen as his film's narrative voice.
The Hermitage is the place where voice and visual images intersect, as seen in Custine's entry into the palace. To Sokurov it becomes not just a building, a palace or a great art gallery, it becomes a metaphor for Russia itself and the strength and endurance of Russian culture, especially as a strand of western European culture. Sokurov follows this theme visually as we see through Custine's and the spy's eyes Peter the Great acting with violence against one of his courtiers; we see the court of Catherine the Great and the empress witnessing a play in her palace theatre; we see a ceremony of Nicholas I in which the Shah of Persia offers apologies for a diplomatic incident, reflecting the Russian belief that Holy Russia is the first protection of Christian Europe against non-European peoples with values inimical to civilized western society; and we see common but cultivated Russians as well as simple sailors admiring and appreciating the riches of the museum galleries. But, we simultaneously see the slender thread on which these shards of civilization rest: first, there are the custodians shown protecting the heritage of the Hermitage during the terrible siege of Leningrad during the second World War; and, in the final scene, the last great court ball held by the last czar, Nicholas II, in 1913, just before the outbreak of that first great war which would destroy imperial Russia and, Sokurov implies, separate it from its European roots.
That last image, with its gorgeous uniforms and gowns, its beautiful setting and Russian music, is the culmination of the film inasmuch as the end of the ball is the end of Russian civilization as it had been shown advancing over the previous 90 minutes. The noble guests of the fatherly, uxorious and kindly Czar Nicholas (at least as portrayed by Sokurov) descend the splendid ambassadors' staircase like the passengers of the Titanic, doomed but still unaware. The descent is both literal and figurative as it mirrors the descent of Russia into a tyranny that knew no culture or humanity. Custine knew, as all ghosts must, how the epic would end; but his foreknowledge was not to be shared by those still confident and content courtiers who were not only leaving the palace of Russian culture but entering hell itself, as Custine and his family had as a consequence of an earlier revolution.
Sokurov has, then, made the Hermitage the repository of all that is best in Russian culture and, therefore, worth preserving and celebrating, as its directors Piotrovsky senior and junior remark in the current museum director's cameo appearance. It is also the instrument through which Russia can regain its soul and its equilibrium after so many decades of terror. If Custine can return from the sleep of death, so can an entire people, awakened by the summons of history and culture. However, Sokurov should have asked some other questions: was not the elegance of Czarist Russia a kind of theatre masking the continued autocracy and inefficiency Custine observed in the 1830s? Was that imperial regime as benign and cultivated as the film suggests? And, not all the threats were eastern: Karl Marx was a product of European culture and enlightenment belief in scientism, managed progress and social engineering. How would those principles have been isolated and quarantined in any Russia which played a part in the cultural history of Europe?
To some extent, these questions are not raised because the dangers of both revolution and autocracy are present in the biography and the observations of Astolphe de Custine. Without fully comprehending his central role as both narrator and symbol of paradox, the full complexity of the movie is lost. For North American audiences this is unfortunate, since so few of them have ever heard of the character that gives Russian Ark its integrity.
Department of History
University of Toronto
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Judith Parkes, project leader, reports significant progress since the last Bulletin. Kits are now on loan and in use at six schools and presentations have been made or scheduled at another six venues. Judith travelled to Toronto in January to establish contacts there and is pleased to announce that Terry McGrail has agreed to assume responsibilty for the project in the Toronto area.
More kits are being produced and the text is being translated into French to broaden the reach.
For more information, contact Judith Parkes at 613-569-3715, or by e-mail at [email protected]
As part of our mission, we work towards sharing and disseminating knowledge between Canadian cultural institutions and the State Hermitage Museum. Our Academic Outreach Fund was established last year to provide annual scholarships and bursaries to Canadian scholars for study at the Hermitage, or to enable staff members of the Hermitage to visit a Canadian museum, college or university for study or to teach.
Doris Smith, Liana Van Der Bellen and Dawn Roach (Head of Programs and Projects, Canadian Museums Association) have drafted a Request for Proposals that governs disbursement of funds during 2003.
We thank our members for their generous donations, now standing at $5,260, and list below the names of donors whose gifts were received since the last Bulletin.
Liana Van Der Bellen
Agnes Benidickson, CC
In memory of Audrey Jessup
Mr and Mrs Patrick McG. Stoker
If you have not yet made a donation to the Fund, and wish to do so, please make your cheque payable to Canadian Friends of the Hermitage, mark it "Academic Outreach Fund" and mail it to our National Office at 280 Metcalfe Street, # 400, Ottawa, ON, K2P 1R7. Donations are fully tax-deductible.
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Candidates for the Executive Committee
Gerald Glavin (Vice-President, Administration) - a retired management consultant, Gerry has been an active member of Friends of art galleries in various parts of the country for many years, including the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the National Gallery of Canada, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the National Gallery (Washington, D.C.) and the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Ethel Kesler (Montreal) Founding President of Montreal Chapter. Ready to remain in charge until a replacement can be found.
Catherine Lane (Ottawa) In charge of programs run by Ottawa Chapter. Retired senior federal public servant. Active as a volunteer on several United Way committees, and docent at the National Gallery of Canada. Elected member of Queen's University Council.
Susan (Mandy) Macrae (Toronto) For President of Toronto Chapter. Mandy is keen to bring the Canadian Friends to the attention of a wider public.
Judith Parkes recently retired from teaching biology at the secondary school level. Some years ago, Judith became fascinated by art and art history, took a B.A. in art history at Carleton University and a one-year study course at the Courtauld Institute that led to a M.A. Subsequently, Judith became a sessional lecturer in the Art History Department at Carleton. Judith has developed our special school project based on works of art in the Hermitage Museum; she also designed the kit now being used by art teachers in secondary schools.
Nancy Scarth (Secretary) After interesting and varied careers as a Professional Engineer (Queens, Eng. Physics '49), real estate salesperson, mother of three children, farmer, editor of various newsletters, active volunteer and sportswoman, Nancy has become a Russophile in her "golden" years. She earned a B.A. in Slavic Studies recently at Ottawa University and has visited Russia seven times -- so far. She has had experience in taking minutes for numerous organizations, both local and national.
Paule Sirois (French Programming) Paule has to her credit many years of experience as a volunteer in hospitals, schools and the Canadian Museum of Civilization. She is looking forward to designing an interesting selection of programs for our francophone members.
John Skeggs (Bulletin) For almost 50 years, John has had a strong interest in things Russian. He first visited the Hermitage in 1962, just prior to taking up residence in Canada. Last year, he was responsible for producing the Friends' newsletter and is looking forward to carrying on in the coming year.
Patricia Simmermon (Tours) Pat has been involved in the planning of the past three successful tours to The Hermitage by the Canadian Friends; she escorted the last successful tour to the Baltics and St. Petersburg. A travel professional for over 25 years, she has enjoyed many years in planning and escorting international cultural tours.
Doris Smith (President) Doris is Founding President of the Canadian Friends of the Hermitage. She spent 18 years as a volunteer docent at the National Gallery of Canada, was President of the Friends of the National Gallery and coordinated the Rideau Chapel Restoration Campaign. She has also served on the Board of the Canadian Federation of Friends of Museums. As a professional fund-raiser, she managed two capital campaigns in Ottawa.
David Wait (Treasurer) is an accounting professional with over 30 years' experience in financial management of a $15 million+ annual budget non-profit organization. David has been responsible for financial administration of CIDA-sponsored educational and socio-economic projects in Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. He is a member of IASC (International Accounting Standards Committee).
Robin Young (Special Projects) Robin joins us after her recent retirement from senior executive management positions, the last being Vice-President, Corporate, of the National Capital Commission. She was awarded a Federal Government Leadership Citation in 1996.
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We have a busy spring program to tempt you out of your winter burrows.
March 21: Lecture presented in collaboration with the National Gallery of Canada.
Speaker: Nathalie Bondil, Chief Curator at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Curator of the "Voyage into Myth" exhibition. In French with simultaneous English interpretation. Mme Bondil will introduce us to Two gentlemen of note: Ivan Morozov and Sergei Shchukin.
Two Muscovite and francophile art lovers invite you into their magnificent homes to show off their collections of impressionist and post-impressionist art from the end of the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century. Morozov and Shchukin stand out not only because of the quantity of exceptional works by Monet, Renoir, Cézanne and Gauguin they acquired, but also because of the bold vision with which they supported young artists who, at the time, were quite unknown - such as Matisse, Picasso and other Cubist and Fauve artists.
Time and location: 2 p.m., auditorium of the National Gallery of Canada.
Admission: adults $5, seniors and full-time students $4, Friends $3. Tickets at the door.
Postponed: an illustrated lecture by Paul Francis: 19th Century Russia-the Glitter that was not Gold. Will be held in the Auditorium of the National Library from 2:00 to 4:00p.m. This is a sequel to Paul's stimulating presentation last year on Peter the Great, Czarina Elizabeth and Catherine the Great. Tickets are available at the door, $5 for Friends and $8 for non-members.
May 14: Please join us at 12:30 p.m. (after the AGM) for our Museums Day Lunch at the International Restaurant at Algonquin College. Our guest speaker will be Joan Debardeleben, Director of European and Russian Studies at Carleton University. Cost for the three-course meal is $25 for Friends and $30 for non-members. Cash bar. To reserve, please telephone the Friends office at 236-1116. When reserving, please indicate whether you want meat or fish; final menu to be determined. Seating is limited, and our lunch and dinner events always sell out, so book now.
And, looking ahead, during the week of 20-29 June, we will be putting on an event at the Lindenhof Restaurant to join with them in celebrating their Russian Food Festival. Watch for details in the next Bulletin.
The Russian Study Group has been meeting monthly now for a year (usually the first Thursday of the month at 1:00 p.m.) and has progressed to the late 19th century in its study of historical background, with forays into arts and letters along the way. This is an informal study group with different members giving short papers, followed by discussion, and questions which often lead to further study. As an example, were the serfs better off after their freedom was granted in 1861? How was Pushkin's black ancestry viewed in Russia? We have also realised that there is a treasure trove of Russian painters to whom we have never been exposed.
Membership in the group is open to all, and no prerequisites or fees are required! Our next meeting is on Thursday, 6 March at 1:00 p.m. At 63 King's Landing Private (home of Judith Parkes, 569-3715). For more information contact Nancy Scarth at 826-1090 or at [email protected]
In addition to the Russian Ark screenings mentioned earlier, please note the following concert attraction:
March 24: The Kirov Orchestra from the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg returns to Roy Thomson Hall. The conductor will be Valery Gergiev (of Russian Ark renown). They will present Russian music as revisited by a Frenchman, with Ravel's orchestral version of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." As well the program includes:
Debussy - Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
Verdi - Overture to La Forza del Destino
Borodin - In the Steppes of Central Asia
Prokofiev - Violin Concerto No. 1 (Sandra Wolf-Meei Cameron, soloist)
Specially priced tickets have been reserved for members and their guests for this exciting evening.
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Montreal Chapter News
The big news from Montreal was the official launch of the Montreal Chapter in January, in conjunction with the opening of the Voyage into Myth exhibition from the Hermitage. The Hornstein Pavilion of the MMFA was the setting, and those attending were welcomed to a private preview by Chief Curator Nathalie Bondil.
Following the preview, Wanda Palmer, Head of Public Relations, and Michelle Prevost, Head of Development and Membership for the museum, joined us for a specially catered, Russian-flavoured lunch. Later, the Consul General of Russia, Mr. Igor Golubovskij, hosted a reception for both the Montreal and Ottawa Chapters.
Wednesday, April 2: A free lecture on The Climax before the Fall - Russian Culture during the Reign of the last Czar by John Felvinci, PhD, well-known Montreal lecturer. To be held at the MMFA, Maxwell Cummings Auditorium, starting at 7:00 p.m.
And remember that Voyage into Myth continues in Montreal until 27 April. The Museum is open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
The Internet Shop
We would like to remind you that all members of the Hermitage Friends Club are offered a 10% discount on all kinds of merchandise in the Internet Shop of the State Hermitage Museum. Its address is www.shop.hermitagemuseum.org. Over 350 items are featured on line - glasses, ceramics, paintings, sculpture, jewellery, hand-made furniture, fabrics, clothing and accessories. Every item is certified and has been approved by museum experts. You will also find a wide variety of books, guidebooks and calendars.
When making a purchase, please indicate the Membership ID of the Friends to qualify for the discount. The ID number is available on request from [email protected].