Are You Going To Art Heaven?

I Could Not Believe This Was Happening To Me


My family thinks I'm a little too obsessed with art.


I duck into an art museum or gallery every chance I get. I love to buy art books and read articles about art. I linger and gaze at paintings when my family wants to keep moving. Maybe you're this way too.


That's why I felt like I had entered art heaven during a trip I took to Russia a couple of years back. How can Russia be art heaven? If you're like me, Russia conjures up images of bread lines, poverty, heartless czars, Dr. Zhivago, communism, and Stalin and Lenin. So when I was invited to visit Russia for the first time, I was more than a little anxious.


My friend John, a dealer specializing in Russian art, had invited me to join him on an art buying trip. He knew I loved art and wanted to share the rich art heritage of Russia with me. At first I turned him down, but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if there would ever be another chance. So I decided to go.


I flew from Chicago to Stockholm and then on to St. Petersburg. I was to be on my own for a few days before connecting with John in Moscow, so I hired a tour guide John had recommended. I stayed in what was purported to be the best hotel in St. Petersburg, but it wasn't all that wonderful. It was old and run-down. I wished I'd had better accommodations, but frankly I'd expected worse.


My Unparalleled Private VIP Tour 

Only a small portion of the Winter Palace, which houses the Hermitage


Thanks to some of my connections, I had arranged to visit the Hermitage on a day that it was closed to the public. I met with a curator -- not some tour guide but one of the museum's top art experts, who showed me highlights and shared stories about the museum and the art I was viewing. It was a dream come true. I couldn't wait to tell my friends at home about this rare opportunity.


I was not prepared for how vast, ornate, and spectacular the museum is. I've been to Versailles and to the Louvre, but there is simply no comparison. They say that if you spent 30 seconds with every object in the Hermitage, it would take 40 years to see everything. I believe it. It is incredible that Peter the Great had the vision to hire the world's great architects to design this palace, and to design the city of St. Petersburg, which I think is even more beautiful than Paris. It was wonderful to be able to experience the Hermitage on a private tour, with no distractions and no tourists. I went back the following day, and the museum was packed, which wasn't as much fun.


The Academy Where the Russian Greats Studied


After leaving the Hermitage, I asked my driver if we could visit the Russian Academy, where the great Russian artists had been trained. The school was designed and built by Catherine the Great and was just across the river from the Hermitage. We walked into the academy without an appointment.


I met the director and toured the spectacular old building. I blushed as I watched students painting nudes; I saw the anatomy room, which looked like a medical school, strewn with skeletons of animals, birds, and humans. I was escorted to the private studios of teachers and soon-to-graduate students. In another room I saw student copies of paintings that were every bit as great as the classic paintings they had reproduced. The St. Petersburg and Moscow academies are considered the best art schools in the world to this day. The museum of student works is world-class.


The Hidden Jewel of Russia


An unexpected surprise was the State Russian Museum, the hidden jewel of St. Petersburg. The Hermitage is mostly European art, but the Russian Museum houses all the Russian greats.


I fell in love with Russian art. It was Catherine the Great's goal to make Russia a center for the arts, and she created the best ballet, symphony, and, yes, the best artists in the world.


Of course, I was so inspired by the magnificent art that I wanted to own some. I was taken to artists' studios where I met with artists and was able to buy from them.


A Dream Come True


This was a dream trip to art heaven: a private tour of the best museum in the world with a top curator, a trip to the Russian academy and its museum, visits to private art studios where I was able to purchase.


And, of course, all the must-see sites in St. Petersburg -- the Ballet, Peterhof Castle, magnificent churches, graves of the great czars. Though I consider myself a worldly traveler, this was the trip of a lifetime. There is something unique about being in Russia: It's a little harder to navigate because of the language barrier, and its legendary history is somehow overwhelming.


But the Russian people are the nicest and most giving I've met during any of my travels. You can imagine why I thought this was art heaven.


Re-Creating My Trip


"Take me along next time you go," my art-loving friends begged -- which inspired me to organize this Russian Art Cruise. My goal is to re-create much of that memorable experience and share it with others. We will enjoy a private, after-hours tour of the Hermitage and introduce you to some special people from the museum, and of course you can go back for more on your own. We will visit the great Russian Museum to see the artwork you cannot easily see anywhere else in the world, and we will visit the Academy. You will have the chance to meet with artists and even buy some paintings to send home. The living realists in Russia are magnificent, and I'm arranging for top-trained institute graduates who are considered masters to provide artwork you can buy if you wish.


Because I did not favor the hotels in St. Petersburg, the ship is the perfect alternative. The Crystal Symphony, which recently underwent a $25 million renovation, is a five-star ship with superb services, spectacular accommodations, and outstanding food. You can see the city during the day and return to rest in your beautiful, safe stateroom at night.


Moscow and Excursions


We have arranged for tour packages to the top sites in St. Petersburg in addition to shopping and other sightseeing. There is also an optional day trip to Moscow on the high-speed train. Moscow is a must-see, and you can see what you need to see in one day.


Art Lectures at Sea


Our trip will depart from Copenhagen. I plan to arrive a day early so I can see the city, which I hear is wonderful. During our time on the Baltic Sea, Fine Art Connoisseur Editor Peter Trippi will offer lectures about the sites and the art you will be viewing.


Peter is a leading expert on 18th- and 19th-century art, and the leading authority on J.W. Waterhouse (Peter recently developed a three-city exhibition in Amsterdam, London, and Montreal). He is a former director of the world-renowned Dahesh Museum of Art in New York, and he has held positions at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and the Brooklyn Museum. He is a graduate of the Courtauld Institute in London. Peter knows his stuff and is a wonderful speaker.


We will make a stop in Tallinn, Estonia, which everyone tells me is an unknown treasure, and depart for three days in St. Petersburg. The final stop is Stockholm, where you can visit the museum and see all the sights.


Will you join us in art heaven?


I have hired a travel company that I've done business with for two decades. They are known for excellence and attention to detail. I described my previous Russian experience and asked them to re-create it. Of course, Peter Trippi and I also have contacts whom we have invited to participate with us at both the Hermitage and the museum in Stockholm.



Passion For Art


I'm excited about this trip because I love art and love people who love art. I'm looking forward to time at sea making new friends who have a common interest in art, and to hearing stories of their adventures in the cities we visit. Most of all, I'm excited about returning to Russia, to seeing St. Petersburg and Moscow again, and to visiting with my friends at the museums and art studios. And, yes, I hope to buy a few paintings along the way. I came home from my last trip with 16 paintings, all by Russian masters.


Will you join us? We are only inviting 100 people to join us because we want to keep the trip as intimate as possible.


We have already sold out most of the upgraded suites and penthouses. We do have classic staterooms still available, but we don't know how long they will last. Frankly, the ship is selling so fast I don't think we can offer this much longer. As I write this, we have have only eight double occupancy rooms left and two penthouses.


You can learn more about this experience at


I encourage you to phone Gabriel at Creative Travel Planners to ask questions and book your room. The price is very reasonable, and we don't know yet if we'll ever make this trip again. I hope you'll consider allowing me to share the art heaven I experienced in Russia. There is simply no way to describe its magnificence.


- Eric Rhoads, Publisher

Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine



Registration info:


or 800.255.3070, ext. 123

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