Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display, comprise over three million items (the numismatic collection accounts for about one-third of them), including the largest collection of paintings in the world. The collections occupy a large complex of six historic buildings along Palace Embankment, including the Winter Palace, a former residence of Russian emperors. Apart from them, the Menshikov Palace, Museum of Porcelain, Storage Facility at Staraya Derevnya, and the eastern wing of the General Staff Building are also part of the museum. The museum has several exhibition centers abroad. The Hermitage is a federal state property. Since July 1992, the director of the museum has been Mikhail Piotrovsky.
Of the six buildings in the main museum complex, five—namely the Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and Hermitage Theatre—are open to the public. The entrance ticket for foreign tourists costs more than the fee paid by citizens of Russia and Belarus. However, entrance is free of charge the first Thursday of every month for all visitors, and free daily for students and children. The museum is closed on Mondays. The entrance for individual visitors is located in the Winter Palace, accessible from the Courtyard.
A hermitage is the dwelling of a hermit or recluse. The word derives from Old French hermit, ermit "hermit, recluse", from Late Latin eremita, from Greek eremites, literally "people who live alone", which is in turn derived from ἐρημός (erēmos), "desert". The building was initially given this name because of its exclusivity - in its early days, only very few people were allowed to visit.
Originally, the only building housing the collection was the "Small Hermitage". Today, the Hermitage Museum encompasses many buildings on the Palace Embankment and its neighbourhoods. Apart from the Small Hermitage, the museum now also includes the "Old Hermitage" (also called "Large Hermitage"), the "New Hermitage", the "Hermitage Theatre", and the "Winter Palace", the former main residence of the Russian tsars. In recent years, the Hermitage has expanded to the General Staff Building on the Palace Square facing the Winter Palace, and the Menshikov Palace.
The Western European Art collection includes European paintings, sculpture, and applied art from the 13th to the 20th centuries. It is displayed, in about 120 rooms, on the first and second floor of the four main buildings. Drawings and prints are displayed in temporary exhibitions.