This post is a sequence ion to the It’s Museum Time in St Petersburg Part 1 that I published a year ago. During this spring and summer I’ve already collected quite a number of museums – big and small – that are worth visiting. One of them deserved an entire post (Menshikov Palace) so I won’t talk about it here. To tell the truth I have no idea how many museums (state-owned and private) there are in St Petersburg but I can tell you it will take a big chunk of your life just to see Hermitage or Russian Museum ‘decently’. And these are but the two of the largest museums! So we’d better concentrate on the more sizable but nevertheless quite curious places which can tell you a lot about the mysterious country that Russia is 🙂
I will start with my all-time favourite museum in St Petersburg (since I was a child) – the Russian Museum of Ethnography, St Petersburg. It used to be pretty dusty, with all those Soviet inscriptions and difficult-to-read stands. And nevertheless I just loved it, regardless of the dusty smelly exhibits and the blemished tags!
Among my personal most cherished halls was the one with the costumes and objects from the Caucuses and the one with the reconstruction of the Russian isba. Ah yes, also all those small detailed models with tiny village people dancing and eating blini to celebrate Maslenitsa! Since then the museum has really been going through a thorough upgrade. It’s much more readable and attractive. And certainly less dusty (though there are some halls still wanting renovation left). And surely the best place to learn lots of things about the various peoples living in and around Russia.
A collection of hand-made wooden distaffs for spinning fibers
I doubt if it was particularly comfortable wearing this scarf… But the collection of national costumes (by country, region and even city) is amazing! Now that they’ve put it on display in a much more synthetic and, well, attractive way (with other related objects), they’ve really made this collection speak to the visitor.
Various types of a Russian isba, a traditional wooden house, and the interior of one:
Important info on the Russian Museum of Ethnography: open from 10 am to 6 pm on all days except Mondays and every last Friday of the month. They have various workshops (like handicraft for children), lectures and a highlights’ excursion offered every Tuesday at 12. It’s located side by side with the Russian Museum (which it originally made part of) on Inzhenernaya Street. The ticket costs 250 rubles or zero if you’re under 18 🙂 The museum is large, so plan your visit accordingly.
General Staff or Generalny Shtab is a part of Hermitage (yet another part, as if the Winter Palace and the adjacent palaces were not enough! 🙂 But obviously this is a less crowd-packed building even on the free entrance days (every first Thursday of the month). It’s located right on the Palace Square and – as a building – is famous for its irregular angles and a wonderful view on the Winter Palace.
It’s been recently renovated to house various temporary exhibitions that just wouldn’t physically fit into the main Hermitage building(s). Also – probably in an attempt to attract more visitors – they’ve moved all the Impressionists there. And for me they are the point of visiting Hermitage in a way… Although I somehow liked it more when they were all squashed in a small but luminous room in the main building.
The rest of the stuff there is these gilded columns, chandeliers and endless enfilades of gifts for the emperor’s family given by this or that super-prominent figure of the past… I know that some people would love seeing all those giddy pompous presents (the more extravagant the better – that seems to be the rule of thumb for most of the gifts) but I walked fast not paying much attention. I was there for the Impressionists!
This room is supposed to create an effect of it being twice as big: the half chandeliers are reflected in the mirrors as if they are whole. Well, the recreated rooms are beautiful but… a bit too imperial-heavy! Built by the famous architect Carlo Rossi, the General Staff was the HQ of, well, the General Staff, the Foreign Ministry and the Finance Ministry. The Western wing still belongs to the military while the Eastern wing is a labyrinth-like museum (probably due to the fact that they are still adjusting it to the purpose).
There you will also find Kandinsky, collections of various stuff left from the ministries and even more imperial arts. However, there were also some rooms dedicated to the art nouveau in Russia (or modern) which I liked for its delicate display:
Important info on General Staff (Generalny Shtab): As any of the Hermitage buildings, the free entrance is every first Thursday of the month. It’s open from 10.30 to 6 pm (Wednesday till 9 pm!) except Mondays. It will cost you 300 rubles to get inside or 600 rubles to visit it along with the rest of the Hermitage museum buildings (but don’t even try to do that in a day…).
Moving away from the center of the city, to the Aptekarsky Island on the Petrogradskaya side of the river Neva, there is a ‘chamber’ Museum of the Russian Avantgarde squeezed in between the modernist mansions and boring Soviet buildings. It’s a wooden house which belonged to Mikhail Matyushin, an avantgarde artist and musician who delved into colour and vision, and his wife Elena Guro, also an artist. It’s a quite new museum, open in 2006, and it tells you about the avangarde movement of the 1920s-30s in Leningrad.
The house is something of a museum object in itself. First of all – it’s wooden. It’s built around 1840-50s and has had a long association with the literary society of Russia. It used to be something of a place where artists and poets could find shelter and hot tea. The house survived both the fires of the October revolution and the Siege of Leningrad but had to be reassembled from new materials in 1987 and then again in the 1990s. Anyway, you feel as if you got suddenly transported to a dacha (there’s also a small garden) with creaking staircase and wooden furniture.
Most of the exhibits were either under construction or on the road, being borrowed by a museum somewhere, so the visit was quite brief. The first floor is dedicated to the history of the house and its illustrious visitors and residents such as Mayakovsky for example. I didn’t really appreciate Matyushin’s or Guro’s art that much (or probably just wasn’t so to speak prepared to take it in) but I liked their students’ studies of colours and various avantgarde wallpaper designs.
Important info on the St Petersburg Museum of Avantgarde or Matyushin’s House: Open daily from 11 am to 6 pm (Tuesday until 5 pm) except Wednesdays. This is a branch of the Museum of the History of St Petersburg (see my previous post on Rumyantsev Mansion and the St Peter and Paul Fortress). It has a small but interesting bookstore which offers inexpensive books on the history and art of St Petersburg (not only avantgarde), also in English. A tiny museum worth visiting for its old St Petersburg (or even dacha) flavour. Tickets – 100 rubles, free entrance – each Friday.
And finally here’s another ‘chamber’ museum right in the center of the city, on the Moyka river embankment between Nevsky Avenue and the Palace Square. This is the Museum of Printing situated in the former (and first) HQ of the Pravda newspaper. However, it’s for those who are not super-interested in printing as it tells more on the byt (way of life) of a dokhodny dom in St Petersburg rather than printing. There are several rooms of a typical St Petersburg residential house of the late 19th – early 20th century recreated there. In addition, enjoy the fact that you will actually enter the museum via a recreated (an operating) bookstore, ushered into a small room telling you about the history of the house and then asked to go out onto the staircase to enter another apartment where the rest of the exhibits are – a curious way of laying out the museum! 🙂
The light was poor inside so I didn’t take photos of the Pravda HQ or the rest of the rooms. One of the exhibits that did concern printing however was this collection of the printing presses and various tools and machines in the former printing workshop. The museums organizes interesting workshops where you can create your own book cover, for example.
Important info on the Museum of Printing: This is yet another branch of the Museum of the History of St Petersburg. It is open from 11 am to 6 pm and until 5 pm on Tuesdays. Closed on Wednesdays. The ticket is 120 rubles. A very small museum which will not take long to visit – a perfect match for an information-laden and tired tourist 🙂
Hope you’ve found a museum to your liking in St Petersburg. There will soon be a separate post on the Museum of Political History of Russia, which really deserves to be dealt with in much more details.
Adding this to my St Petersburg series.