Amsterdam’s Hermitage Museum reborn as H’ART
TEXT: MELISSA ADAMS
Evolving with our turbulent times, what was formerly the largest satellite of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, has found new life, as well as new international partnerships, as Amsterdam’s H’ART museum. Looking beyond borders, the reborn venue will bring world-renowned art collections spanning continents and oceans to the Dutch capital.
If the walls of Amsterdam’s new H’ART museum could talk, they might whisper tales about Peter the Great when he visited the Netherlands during his so-called Grand Embassy trip to Western Europe at the tail end of the 17th century. The tsar was sufficiently impressed by what he observed in Amsterdam and Zaandam during his “gap year”. He asked the Dutch for help when he embarked on building his capital on waterlogged Russian ground. Once called Petrograd and for years known as Leningrad, the city he founded bears its original Dutch name today.
Peter the Great’s obsession with collecting renowned art was on ample display when H’ART was Amsterdam’s Hermitage museum. Opened by Dutch Queen Beatrix and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2009, it was the largest satellite of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg until February 2022, when Russia cut ties with St. Petersburg after the invasion of Ukraine. Some of Peter the Great’s prized souvenirs – including Rembrandts – were showcased in a 2013 Hermitage Amsterdam exhibit dedicated to the first tsar to travel outside the borders of his immense kingdom, aiming to modernise Russia.
Ghosts of the past
Long known as the Amstelhof, the monumental building that now houses H’ART was built on the eastern banks of the Amstel River, near the Magere Brug, in 1683. At 102 metres, it boasted the widest facade in Amsterdam at the time. Until 2007, the symmetric, classical-style structure served as a retirement home for the elderly. Despite numerous renovations over more than three centuries, administrators deemed it inadequate to meet residents’ needs in the 1990s. They offered the historic edifice to the city of Amsterdam, which leased it to what became the Hermitage museum.
A €40 million renovation restored some areas and reconfigured others to accommodate the museum’s needs. A street-level doorway facing the Amstel that was once the tradesman’s entrance, where deliveries were received, now serves as one of two main entrances. Just beyond it, a large inner courtyard – where laundry was once left to dry while residents gardened and took care of chickens – provides ample space for museum visitors to relax outdoors, when the weather cooperates.
Hermitage reincarnated as H’ART
As one ripple in the global tsunami created by geo-political conflict, Amsterdam’s Hermitage severed bonds with the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg in March 2022, a week after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In the same month, the Amsterdam Museum found a temporary home at the venue during the large-scale renovation of its monumental Civil Orphanage.
On 1 September 2023, Hermitage Amsterdam will be reborn as H’ART. The new moniker is not an acronym, but suggests the new museum’s mission: to look beyond borders in opening windows to the world through the uniting force of art. To bring world-renowned collections to Amsterdam, the newest incarnation of the venue is collaborating with a trio of partners: London’s British Museum, one of the world’s oldest repositories of global treasures; Centre Pompidou in Paris, known for its controversial architecture and, more significantly, one of Europe’s foremost collections of modern and contemporary art; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the leading museum for American fine and decorative arts.
Currently on display is Clubbing, a video installation by Martine Gutierrez from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, as well as a work by Patricia Kaersenhout from the ABN AMRO Collection recognizing the Dutch Slavery Memorial Year (July 2023–July 2024).
H’ART’s first major collaboration with one of its new partners will be a Kandinsky exhibition with the Centre Pompidou in mid-2024. Amsterdam’s 750th anniversary will be celebrated with a major exhibit in partnership with The Leiden Collection in 2025 – the first time all 17 Rembrandts in this collection will be on display in a single exhibit. The British Museum’s Feminine Power is slated for 2026. H’ART’s complete programme for the next few years will be announced in late 2023.
Museum visitors can enjoy lunch, sweets, coffee and wine at HART’s on-site café. When the sun shines, the restaurant is replaced by a kiosk in the expansive outdoor courtyard, where guests can sip and dine on sprawling lawns shaded by mature chestnut trees. A museum shop proffers a rotating collection of jewellery, interior accessories, literature, art and books.
Until 2025, the Amsterdam Museum will present new exhibitions in a dedicated wing at H’ART. Spotlighting both traditional and opposing views of past events, it will offer a wide range of perspectives about Dutch history. Also in the building is the Museum of the Mind | Outsider Art museum, boasting one of the Netherlands’ largest international collections of art produced by art world – and often social – “outsiders”. With unpolished, sometimes controversial pieces, exhibits will explore life’s intertwined fabric, just as the Russian tsar did centuries ago when he worked incognito as a ship carpenter in Amsterdam.
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