From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Catherine the Great started things off in 1764, when she purchased a collection of more than 250 paintings. Over the past few hundred years, the museum has expanded to hundreds of thousands of exhibits displaying a variety of art from around the world. The museum is home to works by many of the world’s greatest artists. However, under the old communist government, for many years little was known in the West of the full extent of the works in the Hermitage Museum.
During World War II, the Nazis seized numerous valuable works of art from wealthy Jewish families and governments from all over conquered Europe which Hitler used to set up a museum in Germany. In addition, Hermann Göring gathered for himself an enormous personal collection of stolen art. As Russian soldiers were the first to enter Berlin, Germany at the end of the war, a great many of these paintings, plus paintings legitimately belonging to the German Government, were looted by Russian soldiers for themselves while many other priceless works of art were taken by the Soviet government.
After the fall of communism and Russia’s more open policies, in 1995 the Hermitage Museum unveiled a collection of near priceless Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. The existence of a number of these paintings astonished members of the art world who for fifty years had thought they had been destroyed during World War II. After this revelation, a massive number of claims were made for many pieces in the Hermitage collection. The Russian government has retuned some of these, as have some of the families of soldiers who looted art, but negotiations continue on many, many more.