On Saturday, an exposition, Painting, Passion and Politics: Masterpieces from the Walpole Collection, opens at Somerset House, in London.
The press service of the State Hermitage Museum reports that the exposition will feature 34 works from a large collection of Britain's first Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole which was sold to Russia late in the 18th century.
The exhibits are prominent paintings by Flemish, Dutch and Italian artists of the 17th century--Peter Paul Rubens, Anthonis Van Dyck, Frans Snijders, Guido Reni, Carlo Maratti and Salvator Rosa. A Rembrandt, Abraham's Sacrifice, will also be on display, though this masterpiece rarely leaves the Petersburg museum. The majority of these paintings will be displayed in Great Britain for the first time over the past 200 years.
The collection of Robert Walpole, the first Oxford count, that had been kept in his country-side residence at Holton Hall, was one of England's most famous in the 18th century. Works by Dutch and Flemish artist as well as those by Italian and French masters made the bulk of the collection.
In 1778-1779, the collector's grandson, George Walpole, sold his grandfather's collection of 204 paintings to Russian Empress Catherine II. The debts he had inherited with the collection were the main reason behind his decision. When the news about the sale of the collection spread in England, members of the British parliament proposed buying "this one of the most beautiful collections in Europe" and establishing a national gallery on its basis. However, the parliamentarians' idea was not put into practice and the collection was sold to Russia for a colossal sum of over 40,500 pounds.
Russian arts critics call the purchase of the Walpole Collection "one of the greatest events in the life of the Hermitage Museum." People in Great Britain still consider the sale of the collection abroad a colossal loss, the Hermitage press service said.
At present, the Hermitage Museum keeps 126 paintings from the Walpole collection. Fifteen paintings are kept in Moscow museums, another 21 in various museums in Russia and Ukraine, 6 paintings were sold abroad in the 1930s. A part of the paintings that had been kept in museums at Petersburg suburbs was lost during the Great Patriotic War. The destiny of 36 paintings from the British collection remains unknown.