Мастерская реставрации Русского музея в 1922 году

Restoration Workshop. 1922.  From left to right: N.S. Blagoveshenskaja, I.J. Chelnokov, M.P. Pokrovskaja, M.M. Tiulin (?), A.N. Suvorova, A.V. Uhanova, J.I. Utkin. 

Since 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, A.Ya. 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.

After the 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 N.A. 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.

Мастерская  реставрации масляной живописи - Реставрация картин  - Отдел реставрации музейных ценностей - Русский музей

Painting Conservation Lab. 1950s. From left to right: P.V. Raikov, A.B. Brindarov, N.A. Shaposhnikova, S.F. Konenkov, I.V. Jarigina and M.N. Markov

After 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.

The 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 studio was divided into new subdivisions. Thus, the studio for graphic restoration (1953) and Old Russian painting (1954) were created. At the beginning of the 1960s, the wooden sculpture, decorative carving and furniture department and the textile department were created. In 1969, an independent studio for the restoration of plaster and stone sculpture was created.

Реставрационный совет Русского музея по графике | Реставрационная комиссия

Conservation Council at the Paper Conservation Lab. 1976

In later years, new 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 Division (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 Division of the Theory and History of Museum Art Conservation.

A defining 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.

Today, the Russian Museum’s Art Conservation Department is a contemporary scientific conservation center consisting of 16 divisions staffed by 95 specialists of the highest professional level.

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