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The Oil Painting Conservation Studio was founded in 1922 within the Art Department of the Russian Museum.

The studio is currently staffed by 12 restorers (five top-tier specialists and six first-tier) and one senior research fellow.

The team of the Russian Museums Oil Painting Conservation Studio would not be able to produce its excellent work if it did not have the wealth of hands-on expertise accumulated by several foregoing generations of restorers and a decades-old tradition to rely on. The leading influences on the present-day conservation studio were Mikhail Markov, Nina Shaposhnikova, Anany Brindarov, and Konstantin Bernyakovich, who were the immediate predecessors and teachers of the current conservation team.

Department Divisions:

 Oil Painting Conservation

 Mixed Media Painting Conservation

 Old Russian Painting (Icons) Conservation

 Paper Graphics Conservation

 Ceramic and Glass Art Conservation

 Metal Art Conservation

 Textile Conservation

 Carved Icon and Wooden Sculpture Conservation

 Gilded Wooden Carving Conservation

 Picture Frame Conservation

 Lacquered Furniture Conservation

 Plaster and Stone Sculpture Conservation

 Contemporary Art Conservation

 Scientific Research

 Conservation Cordination Center

 

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The Oil Painting Conservation Studio in the 1950s. Left to right: Pavel Raikov, Anany Brindarov, Nina Shaposhnikova, Samuil Konyonkov, Irma Yarygina, and Mikhail Markov

Among the pupils of these great mentors were accomplished masters such as Tatyana Usova, an oil painting restorer of the highest merit, and Olga Guseva, who followed in the footsteps of her teacher Bernyakovich, specializing in new tempera restoration. Tragically, Usova and Guseva are no longer with us. They both perished in a plane crash on June 28, 1982, while traveling to Kiev to set up an exhibition of paintings from the Russian Museum.

The know-how required for challenging restoration projects, built up by the previous generation of restorers, is what underpins the studios excellence in art conservation today. Its activities are determined by the important tasks surrounding the conservation of works of art, but in the meantime their restoration craft continues to evolve and improve. While most of the methodologies developed by the pioneers continue to be practiced by the conservation studio, its work has seen a few changes. Modern-day restorers now face a crucial tradeoff and must deliberate over whether to apply the traditional restoration techniques or opt for more up-to-date methods, depending on which one requires less intervention in the fabric of the painting. In addition, the practice of art conservation has, in recent time, become much more closely intertwined with scientific and academic research done on the museum exhibits. The restorers now work together with the staff of the Russian Museums Department of Technical and Technological Research, established in 1970, on a daily basis.

Nowadays every painting undergoes a full technological and chemical audit prior to any serious restoration. This analysis provides the data needed to make a scientifically justified choice among restoration techniques and facilitates quality assurance at every stage of restoration. Alongside their routine work providing preventative care for and conserving paintings, the studios restoration team frequently takes on complex restoration projects to salvage artwork that is in particularly bad shape. The new works of art that arrive at the museum on a regular basis are a steady source of these technically challenging restoration projects.

Many of the paintings received by the conservation studio following their purchase by the museums purchasing commission are found to be badly damaged as a consequence of improper storage or display by the former owners and/or incompetent prior restoration.
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Lead restorers Anton Makarov (left) and Marat Dashkin clear up the original early 18th-century painted plafonds, removing the later additions of paint. 2015

Both traditional and new restoration techniques, the latter involving the use of sophisticated equipment and materials, are employed to resuscitate these paintings. For example, a vacuum table might be used to strengthen the paintwork, the craquelure will be eradicated using specialized thermal equipment, and canvas tears will be joined edge-to edge with the aid of modern synthetic adhesives.

Paintings from the late 19th-early 20th century and the early Soviet period pose a particular technical challenge for the restorer. The unconventional, experimental painting techniques used by artists during that period are characterized by increased pastosity, thicker paint layers, and a combination of various materials, which makes strengthening the paintwork a rather tall order to fill. The restoration work performed a few years ago (by restorer Olga Klyonova) on the painting Woman with Snakes by Nikolay Kolmakov deserves particular praise. A great deal of resourcefulness was required of the restorer, as a new, creative solution had to be devised in order to strengthen the paintwork on this painting, executed with wax paints.

The reverse sides of these paintings sometimes contain fascinating documentary evidence, such as inscriptions or sketches, which have a historical value of their own. When this is the case, the restorer has to eliminate restoration techniques that would require the painting to be placed on a new base.  Furthermore, the restorer has to be extra careful to ensure that the artists original materials are compatible with any new ones added to the painting during restoration.

The restoration work on Pavel Filonovs painting Those with Nothing to Lose serves as a prime example. The artist had painted it with oil on paper. The restoration process saw the painting backed up on canvas through a layer of acid-free Whatman paper. This double re-backing technique, pioneered by our studio in the early 1970s, was the idea of Angelina Okun, a world-class restorer specializing in graphics.

Seven of the oil painting conservation studios restorers Irina Kornyakova, Vladimir Grechin, Marina Kiselyova, Olga Klyonova, Vladimir Kraminsky, Aleksandr Minin, and Yevgeniy Soldatenkov were awarded the Lenin Komsomol Prize in the Field of Arts and Letters in 1987 for their substantial contribution to conservation of the national cultural heritage.
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Lead restorers Evgenii Soldatenkov (left) and Alexander Minin remove the remainder of the protective adhesive following the lining of Karl Bryullovs painting The Last Day of Pompeii onto a new canvas. 1995

Occupying a special place in the work of the studio are the excruciatingly complicated restoration jobs on large-size masterpieces from the Russian Museum, such as The Last Day of Pompeii by Karl Bryullov (restored in 1995) and The Bronze Serpent by Fyodor Bruni (restored in 2000-2003).The truly unique and important task of restoring these paintings, which also placed a huge burden of responsibility on those undertaking it, had to be completed within a fairly tight timeframe. To begin with, the paintings were removed from their stretchers and placed on the marble floor. The paint and the primer were reinforced multiple times. On the back, the old conservation strips and dozens of old patches, applied at different times to mend canvas ruptures, were removed, and the backs of the canvases were cleaned. The original canvases were then removed from the duralumin stretchers used during work on the painting and placed on top of new canvases. The varnished finish on The Last Day of Pompeii was reinstated. After restoration of The Bronze Serpent, the painting no longer had its yellowed old varnish or its multiple later overpaintings. These exceedingly complex operations were performed by specially assigned workgroups manned by Andrey Bogomolov, Anton Makarov, and Alexander Minin (The Bronze Serpent) and by Irina Kornyakova, Alexander Minin, and Yevgeny Soldatenkov (The Last Day of Pompeii).

While challenging technical restoration projects continue to account for a high percentage of the studios workload, the order of the day these days is artistic restoration, with a strong focus on cleansing works of art from later additions of paint. Researchers have stepped up their effort to establish the true identity of artists, as reflected in their original paintings. Meanwhile, there are far too many paintings in museum storage that have been thoroughly painted-over, repaired in previous restoration attempts; we are therefore left with a distorted idea the original painting.

The vast extent of this problem was particularly underscored by the findings of the Scientific Research Section, which carefully examines the paintings in the possession of the Russian Museum. Very many paintings have sustained major damage from unprofessional restoration, and there is a lot of hard work ahead for restorers, who must remove the traces of incompetent tampering from the paintings, with removal of overpainting the most difficult task. Some of the paintings most in need of restoration are late 17th-18th-century Russian portraits and the works of Andrey Matveyev and Ivan Nikitin, among others. The studios restoration artists successfully apply new methods of removing superimposed paint, sometimes using microscopes in their work. The traditional cleaning method, using cotton pads or swabs dabbed in solvent, controlled solely by the restorers naked eye, just won't do in all cases. The paint-over pattern is usually very complicated in paintings having undergone repeated restorations or repairs done a long time ago. Without lab testing, it would be all but impossible to identify all the added layers of paint or varnish, to find where the original painting ends and later additions begin. And it is downright impossible to remove these later additions without the use of a microscope. The microscope-assisted method, combined with the use of fine surgical instruments and solvents, is the only way to achieve the target level of quality.
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Oil painting restorers in the museum halls on the art exhibition Karl Bryullov. 1999

The conservation process and the research that accompanies the conservation of exhibits require meticulous documentation. The studio began preparing the groundwork for introducing computers and computerized inventory and conservation records as far back as 1985. The first step in this monumental endeavor was to coordinate and systematize conservation terminology, and then to codify it in several glossaries. A dictionary of art conservation terms was produced and tested in practice. The museum created its first computerized conservation database in 1988, on one of its first PCs. The database kept growing, eventually becoming part of a network that now links many different departments and offices of the museum, making data much easier to obtain and share.

The scope of duties of a Russian Museum conservation specialist is not limited to hands-on art conservation or restoration. The job profile of a conservation specialist today includes preparing for exhibitions, periodic audits of artworks on display and in the repositories, and training and advisory assistance to students and interns. Conservation specialists provide valuable assistance during exhibition preparation. Every year, the Russian Museum sends a large and growing number of exhibitions on tour across Russia and beyond. Our traveling exhibitions have numbered several dozen annually in recent years. The exhibition-related workload has increased accordingly for the studios team. Conservation specialists take care of most of the preparatory work to make sure the pieces are fit to withstand long journeys. They write condition profiles and perform light restorations as necessary, and they also monitor the transport preparation and packing of the artworks. As many as 2000 artworks pass through the teams hands every year. More recently, the team has developed a new exhibition documentation system, which makes their part of the exhibition-related work both easier and more effective.

The workshops restoration artists have recently completed an exceedingly complex project, consisting in the comprehensive restoration of several large-size paintings by Grigory UgryumovJan Usmars Test of Strength, Alexander Nevsky Arrives in Pskov, and four paintings of the Taxiarchs. The painting Michael the Taxiarch, which presented the most difficulty for restorers, was restored in 2014 by the museums top restorers, Marat Dashkin, Alexander Minin, and Natalya Romanova.

In 2016 the workshops team were instrumental in the restoration of some unique 18th-century painted plafonds from Peter the Greats Summer Palace in St. Petersburg.

Art conservation schools in different countries have significantly stepped up international ties and collaboration in recent time, and the Russian Museums painting conservation studio is no stranger to this process either. The Russian Museums restorers attend and speak at international art conservation conferences, the studio runs internship exchanges with premier art conservation hubs in the US, the UK and Finland, and the departments staff members learn from their overseas colleagues and apply international best practices in their work.

The Oil Painting Conservation Studio of the Russian Museum became an official sub-department of the Art Conservation Department of the Russian Museum as of January 1, 2019.

 

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