Art aristocracy returns to opulent age of the Tsars: Geraldine Norman joined the first banquet at the Winter Palace in St Petersburg since 1917

THE Hermitage in St Petersburg has hosted its first banquet since the Palace was stormed by Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1917.

Now one of the world's greatest art galleries, the former Winter Palace of the Tsars had not experienced the tantrums of French chefs for eight decades. The dinner on Tuesday night for 58 guests, including many powerful names in the art world, was flown from Paris by the caterers Potel et Chabot and warmed up in the museum canteen.

It has taken a Bolivian millionaire, George Ortiz, and his collection of antiquities - now accepted as the world's greatest privately-owned archive - to break through protocol and bring lavish entertainment back to the city of the Tsars. About 280 masterpieces from the Ortiz collection went on public exhibition yesterday in the white, pillared Nickolaevskiy Hall. Their owner has paid for the special display cases and lighting.

In return, Mr Ortiz was allowed to hold a dinner party in the rococo foyer of the Catherine the Great Theatre. The empress entertained in this room, and its use for formal dinners remained a tradition of the imperial family. Six tables with yellow and blue cloths and flower-decked candelabras received the top brass of St Petersburg mingled with the international jet-set. It was black tie for the foreigners and dark suits for the Russians.

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan fell into deep conversation with the powerful Mayor of St Petersburg, Dr Anatoly Sobchak, one of Boris Yeltsin's new men. Some aristocrats were shy of using their titles; Mr and Mrs Orloff were among the guests, he a collateral descendent of Count Gregory Orloff, Catherine the Great's favourite, and she the Princess Fabia of Egypt, King Farouk's daughter. Among the museum top-brass in attendance were Phillip de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan in New York; Ted Pillsbury, director of the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, Texas; Dr Felix Baumann, of the Kunsthaus in Zurich; and Norman Rosenthal, director of exhibitions at the London Royal Academy.

Dr Mikhail Piotrovsky, the bright young director of the Hermitage, had insisted that there should be only one main dish, much to the disappointment of Mr and Mrs Ortiz. They kicked off with caviar straight from the Caspian fisheries, blinis and sour cream; then came Chapon Souvaroff with wild rice, brie, fresh salad, Charlotka aux poires, exotic fruits and coffee with chocolates.

Research in the museum archives had not revealed when the last banquet was held in the palace, but Dr Piotrovsky suggested it was likely to have been well before the First World War.

(Photograph omitted)

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam