16 Portraits stolen during WWII returned to Gatchina Palace

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On 20th June, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Nikolai Patrushev and Minister of Culture of Russia Vladimir Medinsky handed over 16 previously stolen paintings to the Gatchina Palace State Museum-Reserve.

“The return of the paintings is the result of work carried out jointly with a number of ministries and departments to locate museum funds stolen during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45) from the Gatchina Palace Museum,” the press service of the Security Council of Russia noted.

The paintings had not been evacuated at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, and these works were considered lost to this day. This is the largest such find of paintings since 1945. To date, only one of the 52 portraits that previously adorned the palace’s portrait gallery, remained in the museum’s collection.

Patrushev at the ceremony of transferring stolen paintings stressed that the Security Council will continue to orient the law enforcement agencies to continue the search for stolen and missing paintings and other art objects belonging to Russian museums. 

Minister of Culture of Russia Vladimir Medinsky called the return of the paintings “a truly historic event.” He noted that before the Great Patriotic War, Gatchina Palace Museum possessed the largest collection of portraits in the world, and now it is gradually being restored. According to the minister, the find, handed over to the museum, became a great gift for the 100th anniversary of the suburban St. Petersburg museums, which is celebrated in 2018.

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History of the collection

The portrait gallery in the Gatchina Palace was created in the Arsenal Wing in the mid 19th century. The collection began during the reign of Emperor Nicholas I (1825-55), and supplemented with additional works by his successors. The collection of portraits grew, and included representatives of the Romanov dynasty (including portraits of Empresses Elizabeth Petrovna, Catherine II, Grand Dukes Pavel Petrovich and Nikolai Pavlovich), prominent Russian statesmen, portraits of foreign political and military figures, as well as representatives of European royalty (including a rare portrait of Archduke Ferdinand).

Before the Great Patriotic War, the museum’s funds numbered more than 54 thousand exhibits. After the war, 16 thousand items from the Gatchina Palace Museum had been preserved. The palace was restored only in 1976. After the museum opened in May 1985, only 8 thousand exhibits had been returned to the palace.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 21 June 2018