Spain's Prado museum is hosting a large exhibition of European art lent by Russia's Hermitage, a rare opportunity to see such work outside the vast St. Petersburg museum.
Two large paintings by Rembrandt, an imposing Caravaggio and a historic segment of early 20th-century art, an area in which the Hermitage's collection excels, are among the close to 180 items. Works by Spanish artists Diego Velazquez, Pablo Picasso and Diego de Rivera temporarily return home, flanked by famous pieces by Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne and Wassily Kandinsky.
Rare items that once belonged to Russia's czars and aristocracy include Faberge jewels and gold items dating from as early as the fifth century B.C.
"There has never been such an exhibition, of and about the Hermitage, outside Russia," the Russian museum's director, Mikhail Piotrovsky, said by video link.
In a foreword to the catalog, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the collection sent to Madrid represented "the pride and glory of civilization's cultural heritage."
Visitors accustomed to the Prado's impressive Flemish collection will be able to contrast it with the Russian museum's rich contribution by artists such as Jan Brueghel the Elder, Peter Paul Rubens and Anton van Dyck.
Four early Picassos describe the Malaga-born artist's progress from the purely figurative "The Absinthe Drinker" from 1901 and "Boy with a Dog" from his 1905 study of circus life, through to the increasingly cubist Seated Woman (1908) and "Little table at a cafe _ Bottle of Pernod" painted in 1912.
Exhibition commissioner Gabriele Finaldi highlighted Rembrandt's brooding and doom filled "The Fall of Haman (Haman is commanded to honor Mordecai)" while his Russian counterpart Sviatoslav Savvateev said Kazimir Malevich's "Black Square" had been described as both "totally out of place" at the Hermitage and "the museum's greatest work."
The exhibition opens to the public Tuesday and will run until March.
"It is a good taster," said sculptor Alejandra Majewski, who attended a preview Saturday. "The Hermitage is so huge it is really difficult to give an accurate depiction of its collection, but this is a great attempt made up of examples of extraordinary quality."
(This version corrects style on Hermitage director's name.)