This autumn the reputation of Somerset House as a major international arts venue will be further consolidated with the official opening of the Hermitage Rooms. This exhibition space, situated in a suite of rooms on the ground floor of the south block, will display works from the permanent collection of the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, one of the world's finest museums. Thrilled by the prospect of welcoming such prestigious neighbours, the Courtauld Institute has already started to forge links with the State Hermitage Museum. In March of this year Tom Bilson (Head of Digital Media) and myself travelled to St. Petersburg in the company of Geraldine Norman (Director-designate of the Hermitage Rooms) to meet the Director of the Hermitage Professor Mikhail Piotrovsky and other members of the museum staff. We were also ably assisted by the Hermitage Museum's Assistant to the Project Manager, Catherine Phillips, a former Courtauld Institute student who presently resides in St. Petersburg. Our aim was to open the door for future joint ventures between the two institutions.

Upon our arrival we were welcomed by the Museum's Deputy Director Dr. Georgy Vilinbakhov and given the opportunity to spend some time viewing the spectacular works displayed in the equally spectacular settings of the Winter Palace. Although I have been fortunate enough to have made three previous trips to the Hermitage, I still feel that I have seen just seen the tip of the iceberg as far as this breathtaking collection is concerned.

Over the course of the next few days we visited many departments within the Hermitage. Tom Bilson spent much time in discussion with the Digital Media department where he was introduced to the extensive multi-media facilities of the museum. Supported by IBM, the Hermitage is a leading figure in museum media applications and web design and recently won an award for the best internet site in Russia. The Hermitage web site, offering virtual tours of the museum, can be visited at www.hermitagemuseum.org. During the trip Tom discussed the possibility for collaboration between the Courtauld Institute's own web page and that of the Hermitage.

Whilst Tom was busy with the multi-media department, I met up with various members of the curatorial staff at the Hermitage to discuss future projects for collaboration between the two institutions. In particular, ideas for future exhibitions, conferences and academic exchange were considered. We were also very pleased to establish an agreement for a programme of academic exchange, allowing for the staff from each institution to spend a period of secondment in the related institution.

Finally, both Tom and myself spent some time with members of the
Hermitage Museum's Education Department. We were hugely impressed by the commitment of the department to the provision of education for all ages of student from primary school age to adult.

The trip to St. Petersburg was a very enjoyable and fruitful experience and, we are confident, will mark a first contribution towards greater co-operation and understanding between the two major art historical institutions. We await the opening of the Hermitage Rooms in Somerset House with eager anticipation.

Dr. Mike O'Mahony