This Europe: Hermitage shares its treasures with Dutch enterprise

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The Independent Online

The Hermitage Museum of St Petersburg has more than three million treasures, illustrating the breadth and depth of world culture. And now some of the highlights from its collection are to be seen in Amsterdam.

In a grand scheme, which will dwarf its existing partnership with Somerset House in London, the Hermitage will open a satellite gallery in the Dutch city in February and expects to attract up to 40,000 visitors a year in its first phase.

The cash-strapped Russian museum has embarked on a number of international collaborations in recent years to raise funds for the maintenance and conservation of the extensive collections founded by the legendary ruler, Catherine the Great.

Its new gallery will be housed in a 17th-century building on the Nieuwe Herengracht, with the Hermitage receiving a proportion of the museum's revenues in return for loans.

The timing could not be better for the Hermitage. Amsterdam's principal crowd-pulling galleries, the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk modern art collection, close at the end of December for five years of restoration. Only a batch of the Rijksmuseum's most famous works will be available to the public in an annexe. The inaugural exhibition in the new venue will be devoted to Greek gold jewellery, much of which was discovered around the Black Sea where there were Greek colonies. The collection dates from the 6th to the 2nd century BC.

Displays will change every six months with an exhibition next year on the life and collections of the last Tsar and Tsarina, Nicholas and Alexandra. A display of Venetian paintings, including masterpieces by Canaletto, will follow in 2005.

The Dutch, including city and provincial government and the Bingo Lottery, are providing the €39m (£26.8m) cost of establishing the new branch of the Hermitage, which will cover 4,000 square metres.