The Picture Hall, a state room of the Great Palace at Tsarskoe Selo (Catherine Palace) that is situated next to the Amber Room, gets its name from its original and distinctive décor – painted canvases arranged according to the “tapestry” principle was created to Rastrelli’s designs in the 1750s. The hall extends across the full width of the building and has a floor area of around 180 square metres. In the eighteenth century it was used for diplomatic receptions, meals and musical soirees.
The bulk of the Tsarskoe Selo collection of painting on display in this hall was acquired by the artist Georg Grooth on the orders of Empress Elizabeth in Prague and Hamburg in 1745–46. It comprises Western European works of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries including architectural compositions by Emanuel de Witte, genre scenes by Adriaen van Ostade and David Teniers, landscapes by Jan Both, still lifes by Jan de Heem and Jan Fyt, and also works by French and Italian artists: allegories of sculpture and music by Jean-Marc Nattier the Younger, battle pieces by Jacques Courtois (Le Bourguignon), compositions on mythological and biblical subjects by Luca Giordano, Jean Blanchard and others. A special place belongs to two works painted by the Frenchman Pierre Denis Martin the Younger — The Battle of Poltava and The Battle of Lesnaya. They were commissioned by Peter the Great who wanted to preserve the memory of Russia’s glorious victories in the Northern War (1700–21). Despite its evident artistic value the painting collection was used in the Picture Hall exclusively for decorative purposes. When arranging the works on the wall, the architect primarily considered their size and colour scheme. Separated from each other by narrow gilded fillets, the paintings merge into a single colourful “tapestry”.
The general tone of the walls in the Picture Hall is complemented by the ceiling painting of Mount Olympus, a post-war copy of the work above the Jordan Staircase in the Winter Palace that was painted by Gasparo Diziani.
There is not much gilded carving in this hall, but its stands out among all the state rooms for the exquisite portal-like carved doors. The openings are flanked by gilded caryatids, while in the centre of the dessus-de-portes is a depiction of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and patroness of trades and science, reclining on a mirror brought by Cupid.
During the Second World War the Picture Hall was burnt out, but most of the paintings were saved by evacuation (114 out of 130). Canvases close in style and subject were chosen from the stocks of the Hermitage, the research museum of the Russian Academy of Arts and other St Petersburg museums to replace the lost sixteen. The restored Picture Hall was opened to visitors in 1967.