Restoration Studio. 1924. From left to right:
the museum was founded in 1898, the Russian Museum’s art collection has
required continuous monitoring of its conservation state. By 1906, the
question had already been raised about the need for the museum to establish
a dedicated restoration studio that would be able to solve the pressing need
to maintain the constantly expanding collection. During the period between
1906 and 1910, private restorer Alexander Boravsky put together his celebrated plan to create a
conservation studio at the Russian Museum. Due to a lack of funds, however,
it was not to be.
October Revolution of 1917, thousands of nationalized works of art from private
collections and religious objects belonging to cathedrals and monasteries across
Russia began to converge on the walls of state museums. The enlargement of
collections and the creation of new departments that held pieces of various ages
and materials were a reason for major museums of the country to organize
conservation departments. In 1922, by a decision of the Council of the
Department of Arts, such a studio was created at the Russian Museum. It was run
by the experienced art conservator Nikolay Okolovich, an enthusiast of activities
in the museum sphere. In order to restore various kinds of items for exhibition,
he and his colleagues had to creatively rethink the traditional methods of the
national school of art conservation, and create new methodology for the
preservation of various materials. These years laid the foundation upon which
all subsequent generations of conservators have built their work, transferring
their knowledge and skills to one another. During the war years of 1941-1945,
conservators, along with the rest of museum staff, actively participated in the
evacuation of the museum’s works to Perm, where the main part of the collection
was stored. Some staff members remained in blockaded Leningrad, where they
monitored the building and the works of art that remained.
at the Oil Painting Conservation Studio.
the war, a new period began for conservation work and bringing the work into
exhibition condition. The focus of art conservation department’s work became
preserving works of art and preventing further damage. The staff of the
department also participated in the recreation of new exhibitions. During
the postwar period, the art conservation department’s work was concentrated
on preservation and the conservation of artworks. In a number of cases, the
old methods needed to be reexamined, especially regarding the conservation
of Old Russian painting.
museum’s wide-ranging expedition activities in the 1950s drastically increased
the size of the collection. The scientific study of the new acquisitions, the
accumulation of information and analyses, and the necessity of broadening
knowledge about materials and the execution of conservation techniques led to a
differentiated approach to the study and preservation of the pieces. A result of
this process was the goal of having conservators with narrower specializations.
At the beginning of the 1950s, the conservation department was divided into new
subdivisions. Thus, the Studio for Graphic Restoration (1953) and Old Russian
Painting Restoration (1954) were created. At the beginning of the 1960s, the wooden
sculpture, decorative carving and furniture department and the textile
workshop were created. In 1969, an independent workshop for the restoration of
plaster and stone sculpture was created.
at the Paper Conservation Workshop. 1976
later years, new workshops and studios were created, in particular, the division of
Conservation of Applied Arts (1970), which works with ceramics, glass, and
metal pieces; and the Frame Restoration Workshop (1981). The studio for
paintings in mixed media was made into its own division (1990). This process
continues to the present day. Aiming toward a complex study of the works and
the reveal of its characteristic peculiarities on the one hand, and the
emergence of new technology and methods of scientific research based on the
latest scientific achievements on the other led to creation of Physics and
Chemistry Laboratories in 1970. These divisions became bases for analysis
and scientific experiments in solving problems for preservation and
conservation of pieces. The goal of analyzing and understanding processes
connected with the development of the theory of conservation and the study
of the ethics of restoring works led to the establishment of the Department of
the Theory and History of Museum Art Conservation.
characteristic of the contemporary state of art conservation at the Russian
Museum is the scientific approach to all stages of work. This applies to the
comprehensive technological, historical, and artistic study of the work before
conservation work begins, the development of the optimal and safest method of
intervention based on the results of said study, the discussion of the
information received from conservation councils, and objective and accurate
documentation and monitoring while the work is in progress.
As of January 1, 2020, the Art Conservation Department has
89 employees, including 30 top-tier restorers and 15 primary-tier restorers.