“Masterpieces of Western European Drawing: from private German collections” opens at the Hermitage on 5 December. It consists of eighty-nine drawings by nineteenth- and early twentieth-century masters, the most interesting being thirty-five drawings by Francisco Goya from the former Gerstenberg collection. There are also drawings by Daumier, Menzel, Signac, Rowlandson, and single works by Delacroix and Ingres. Most unexpectedly, the exhibition finishes with eleven unknown works by Archipenko, a Russian emigré, whose works now return to their author’s native land.
The title, “Masterpieces of Western European Drawing”, is far more neutral than that of the previous, sensational exhibition—“Unknown Treasures”, also devoted to works brought to Russia from Germany after World War II, for example, Edgar Degas’ “Place de la Concorde: to whom was this work unknown when it is included in even the most general books on the artist?”
The neutral title of the present exhibition appears to be an attempt to avoid speculation about the provenance of the works on show. Although “Masterpieces of Drawing” is both blandly descriptive and unremarkable, “from private German collections” nonetheless raises questions as to whether The Hermitage administration is naive or disingenuous.
Otto Gerstenberg (b. 1848) was the director of the Victoria insurance company in Berlin. He began collecting works on paper around 1900 and amassed a considerable collection of prints, Old Masters and both French and German modern works as well as drawings. The Old Master prints were sold to Colnaghi in 1922 and on his death in 1935 the remainder of his collection was divided between his two sons. The Goya drawings form an extremely important group and have not been seen for years. The standard Goya catalogue lists many drawings as being in the Gerstenberg collection and as missing.