Hermitage under fire for memorial plaque to Bolshevik Uritsky

 

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Bolshevik revolutionary leader Moisei Solomonovich Uritsky (1873-1918)

The descendants of the White Russian emigration are calling for a boycott of the State Hermitage Museum in connection with the installation of a memorial tablet to Bolshevik revolutionary leader Moisei Solomonovich Uritsky – a Russian revolutionary and political activist, chairman of the Petrograd Cheka (Extraordinary Commission for Combatting Counter-Revolution and Sabotage). He also held the post of Commissar for Internal Affairs in the Council of People’s Commissars of the Petrograd Workers’ Commune. 

The corresponding joint appeal was made by the Russian Imperial Union-Order (RIS-O) and the Russian All-Military Union (EMRO):

“For more than a quarter of a century, our people slowly, painfully overcome the grave legacy of totalitarianism, returning to the Orthodox faith, restoring the pages of our history, the names of national leaders and heroes. Unfortunately, the existing legislative base in the Russian Federation, the lack of historical knowledge and the inertia of consciousness of a significant part of the population, inherited from the Soviet system, do not help this process, which is vital for Russia, to move foreword.

“The lack of legal condemnation of crimes committed by the communist party and the corresponding state ideology in the Russian Federation leads to the fact that questions of ideological education and historical education are often in the hands of individuals, who are not pursuing state interests and expressing only personal views or political sympathies. And this, in turn, over and over again leads to flagrant incidents, reversing old wounds in Russian society, fueling conflicts and causing new schisms.

“One of such incidents was the opening on 25th September 2018 – the year of the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the Red Terror! – a memorial plaque commemorating the chairman of the Petrograd Cheka, Moisei Solomonovich Uritsky.  The plaque was installed at the site of his assassination – on the staircase of the vestibule in the east wing of the former Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Empire (General Staff Building, now owned by the State Hermitage Museum). The inscription on it reads: “On 30 August 1918 on this spot Moisei Uritsky, a warrior and guardian of the Socialist Revolution, perished at the hands of Right SRs, enemies of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”

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Hermitage Director Mikhail Piotrovsky unveils Uritsky memorial plaque

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“Speaking at the opening ceremony of the board, the director of the Hermitage, Mikhail Piotrovsky, explained the appearance of this memorial by saying that “Today we are unveiling a memorial plaque marking an event that instigated the Red Terror”, and Uritsky and  his assassin Leonid Kannegisser (1896-1918) were both “intelligent, interesting figures”. But in Russia Moses Uritsky is, whom even his revolutionary comrades described as the “embodiment of the Bolshevik terror” …

“The cynicism and blasphemous installation of the Uritsky memorial plaque in the same building which houses the exposition “Museum of the Russian Guard” dedicated to Russian soldiers who fought and didn’t spare their lives for Faith, Tsar and Fatherland, many of whom were victims of Bolshevik terror unleashed by Uritsky and his associates must be condemned.

“I would also like to remind you that a memorial plaque to Admiral Alexander Vasilyevich Kolchak (1874-1920) was recently dismantled in St. Petersburg. Apparently, unlike Moses Uritsky, the outstanding polar explorer and Russian naval commander, the Supreme Ruler of Russia (from 1918), Admiral Kolchak, in the eyes of local officials, is not a “bright and interesting figure”, but the principle of comprehensive coverage of the history to A.V. Kolchak, like other heroes of anti-Bolshevik resistance, does not apply …  “

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Vandals mark the grave of Uritsky – Палач “Executioner”

“Considering the above, the oldest national organizations of Russia and Russian abroad – the Russian All-Military Union (ROVS) and the Russian Imperial Union-Order (RIS-O) appeal to their compatriots abroad to suspend the transfer of any historical and cultural values ​​to the State Hermitage, including the Museum of the Russian Guard. In our opinion, as long as the plaque perpetuates the memory of Uritsky, one of the executioners and tormentors of the Russian people hangs on the wall of this institution, while in the Hermitage the names of the organizers of the murders of the Russian officers, clergy, nobility, Cossacks , millions of peasants and other victims of the Bolshevik terror, such gifts and transfers from the descendants of Russian émigrés would be contrary to moral and ethical principles,

“We also note that the scandal caused by the installation of the Uritzky memorial plaque by the leadership of the State Hermitage Museum once again exposes the lack of a corresponding state ideology and legislative framework within the Russian Federation which prohibits the “heroization” of political extremism and perpetuates the memory of those responsible for unleashing civil war and political terror. We urge our compatriots abroad to use their moral authority in favor of the earliest possible resolution of this acute problem for modern Russia.” 

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 4 October 2018

State Hermitage Museum showcases furniture from the Tsarist era

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Photo © The State Hermitage Museum

The State Hermitage Museum is currently holding the exhibition Furniture for a Body’s Every Whim… The Age of Historicism in Russia devoted to the development of the furniture-maker’s art between the 1820s and 1890s, when in Russia, following Europe’s lead, the single all-embracing style that was Classicism gave way to an enthusiasm for the art of different countries and peoples from the past – the age of Historicism.

In Russia, the era spanned the reigns of three emperors: Nicholas I, Alexander II and Alexander III. Among them, it was undoubtedly Nicholas I who had the strongest influence on the formation of a romantic perception of history.

Drawing inspiration exclusively from Greco-Roman Antiquity, which had for more than 60 years supplied artists’ creative palette, began to seem dry and boring. New crazes took Russian cultural life by storm: in art a host of different styles appeared that people at the time gave convenient labels: “Neo-Grecian”, “Renaissance”, “Second Rococo”, “Gothic Revival”, “Moresque”, “Neo-Pompeian” and so on.

The fascination with the past that found striking expression in high society life in “historical” masquerades, was perhaps reflected strongest of all in works of decorative and applied art. Here furniture, as the chief element within people’s material environment, played an important role. In the words of one of the characters in Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov, “There were many sofas and couches, settees, tables, large and small. There were pictures on the walls, vases and lamps on the tables, masses of flowers…”

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Photo © The State Hermitage Museum

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Photo © The State Hermitage Museum

Tastes in the age of Historicism tended towards variety in shapes and decorative motifs. This also applied to the materials chosen for the finishing of furniture: besides the customary mahogany and “natural look” poplar, they might use stained “black poplar”, amaranth (purpleheart), walnut, lemonwood or curly grey maple, supplemented here and there with silvered and gilded elements. Capturing the distinctive features of the legacy of the past, while at the same time seeking to surpass their predecessors, the craftsmen invented new technologies and materials.

The vast range of designs and decorative techniques that the age of Historicism produced defies straightforward description. The names of some pieces of furniture have long since become obsolete or are today used for entirely different objects. And when we are reading our favourite works from that period, we often fail to realize that by mentioning, say, a “bergère” or “Gambs armchairs” an author immediately indicated his characters’ standard of living, their tastes and financial circumstances.

Much of daily life in the 19th century is today hidden from us by the veil of the intervening years. Raising that veil and, most importantly, showing the sort of settings in which the dramatic events described by Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Goncharov and Turgenev would have taken place is one of the main tasks of the exhibition. Its title “Furniture for a Body’s Every Whim” is a quotation from an 1839 short story by Nikolai Pavlov, who was a very well-known writer in his day. The epithets “whimsical”, “fanciful” and “ornate” were fashionable expressions used particularly often in the age of Historicism, relating to all sorts of things, but always implying especial refinement.

Of exceptional significance are the examples of items that have survived from the authentic furnishings of the Winter Palace – mute witnesses to the life of the imperial family over a period of several decades.

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Photo © The State Hermitage Museum

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Photo © The State Hermitage Museum

Pieces of furniture from the rooms of the Winter Palace, many of which were recorded in watercolour paintings of the interiors, form a leitmotif that runs through each section of the display devoted to a particular stylistic tendency of the 1820s–90s. Judging by the painted records, besides the traditional sofas, chairs and armchairs, in the Winter Palace there was a great demand for various secretaires, bureaus and writing desks, especially of the sort one would use standing up. They could be found not only in the emperor’s study, but also in practically all the school rooms, the libraries and even the bedrooms. The decoration of the main imperial residence, devised by leading architects was seen by the people of the time as an indicator of fashion, a demonstration of the latest trends in artistic and decorative craftsmanship. Drawings and sketches by gifted architects and designers working on the palace interiors were used for the production of furniture in the workshops of leading St Petersburg manufacturers – the Gambs brothers, Vasily Babkov, Konrad Gut, Adolf Emsen and others, who then included them with minor changes in their own ranges, delighting their customers with items from the furnishing of the palatial halls of “His Majesty the Emperor”. Having furniture similar to the monarch’s was always prestigious, although exact copies were generally avoided.

There are 300 items in the exhibition, the majority of which are being shown for the first time – drawn designs for furniture; engraved depictions of furniture from the showrooms of St Petersburg shops and workshops; watercolours depicting palace interiors and works of decorative and applied art – reflect the most distinctive phenomena of the time from an artistic point of view and with regard to the patterns of daily life.

The exhibition curator is Natalia Yuryevna Guseva, Candidate of Art Studies, deputy head of the State Hermitage’s Department of the History of Russian Culture.

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The exhibition catalogue – in Russian only

A scholarly illustrated catalogue in Russian “Furniture for a Body’s Every Whim…” The Age of Historicism in Russia (St Petersburg: State Hermitage Publishing House, 2018 – 318 pp., ill.) has been prepared for the exhibition with a foreword by Mikhail Piotrovsky, General Director of the State Hermitage. The catalogue text is by Natalia Guseva. 

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Photo © The State Hermitage Museum

The exhibition Furniture for a Body’s Every Whim… The Age of Historicism in Russia runs until 11th November 2018, in the the Manege of the Small Hermitage, in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

© State Hermitage Museum. 21 September 2018

Divine Liturgy for Imperial Family Performed in Winter Palace Church

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Photo © The State Hermitage Museum

On 17 July 2018, on the 100th anniversary of the death of the imperial family, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the Church of the Vernicle in the Winter Palace with the Dean of the Prince Vladimir Cathedral, Archpriest Vladimir Sorokin, presiding.

Members of the choir of the clergy of the Saint Petersburg Metropolis sang at the service, which was attended by Georgy Poltavchenko, Governor of Saint Petersburg, and descendants of the Romanov family, including Prince Michael of Kent, Princess Olga Andreevna Romanoff (President of the Romanov Family Association), Prince Rostislav Rostislavovich Romanoff, and the widow of Prince Dimitri Romanovich Romanoff (1926-2016) Princess Theodora (Dorrit).

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Photo © The State Hermitage Museum

Anatoly Vilkov’s gift to the Hermitage – a portrait of Nicholas II by an unknown artist of the late 19th or early 20th century – was put on show in the cathedral. The portrait, which until 1918 was in the museum of the Semionovsky Guards Regiment, is to become part of the permanent display of the “Arsenal” Department.

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Photo © The State Hermitage Museum

After the Liturgy there was a formal ceremony for the handover of the icon of The Miracle of George and the Dragon, a Stroganov icon from the first third of the 17th century, in a precious setting from the early 20th century. The setting was made in the Feodor Mishukov’s workshop and stylized “in the ancient manner”. The history of this icon is closely bound up with the Old Believer tradition and it is said to have been among the family icons of the Romanovs. The Miracle of George and the Dragon is expected to be kept in the Church of the Vernicle in the Winter Palace. 

© State Hermitage Museum / Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 22 July 2018

The Russian Interior Decoration of the 19th – Early 20th Centuries in the Winter Palace

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Karelian Birch Tree Room, Winter Palace

Arranged in the chronological order, from the time of Alexander I until the reign of Nicholas II, the exhibition traces the development of interiors from the Art Nouveau to the Empire styles.

The permanent exhibition entitled “The Russian Interior Decoration” is based on the materials collected by the History of Russian Culture Department and comprises nearly 400 exhibits dating from the 19th – early 20th centuries. A considerable part of the items were used for the Winter Palace decoration. The comprehensive display of items, characteristic of their specific historical period and being extremely various both in their respective functions and techniques, make it possible to vividly demonstrate the most distinctive features of Russian decorative and applied art. Arranged in the chronological order from the time of Alexander I until the reign of Nicholas II, the exhibition represents different stylistic trends reflecting the evolution of the interiors, ranging from the Art Nouveau to the Empire styles. 

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The Library of Nicholas II, Winter Palace

Every part of the exhibition bears the stamp of its own time. The items displayed in the exhibition partially recreate the panorama of the mode of life of the aristocracy, nobility and the middle class of Russian society. Every function was given its own room: the Living Room, Music Saloon, Private Office, Boudoir and others. One of the halls (Room 178) represents the original palace interior – the Library of Nicholas II, whose private rooms were accommodated in this part of the Winter Palace. 

The prominent place in the exhibition is occupied by the furniture which plays an important role in any interior decoration. The rich collection of Russian furniture in the Hermitage allows to demonstrate the impressive range of forms, design and artistic decoration, as well as the important role of the leading architects and masters of decorative and applied art who created it.

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Furniture from the Pompeian Dining Room, Winter Palace

The exhibition Russian Interior Decoration of the 19th – Early 20th Centuries, is on permanent display in the State Hermitage Museum, the Winter Palace, Floor 2, Rooms 187 – 176. 

© State Hermitage Museum. 17 May 2018

Christina Robertson’s Romanov Legacy

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Christina Robertson self portrait (1822)

The Scottish-born artist Christina Robertson RSA (née Christina Sanders) was the first woman honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy, who became a famous portraitist at the Court of Emperor Nicholas I (reigned 1825-1855). In addition to her portraits of the Imperial family, Robertson painted a large number of ceremonial and chamber portraits of representatives of Russia’s most distinguished families. 

She was considered by contemporaries to be one of the most talented artists of her day, a remarkable achievement for a woman and mother of a large family in the male-dominated world of 18th Century portrait painting. It is also remarkable — and unfortunate — that, despite her great success and popularity, very little is known about the artist’s life.

She was born in Klinghorn in Fife (near Edinburgh) on 17 December 1796. She came from an artistic family, and showed considerable early talent herself. She is thought to have been trained by her uncle, George Sanders (1774-1846), from whose house in London, she launched into her career.

Christina Sanders was a successful portrait painter and she rapidly established a flow of commissions initially from Scottish patrons for her miniatures but later for oil and watercolour paintings.

In 1822, she married fellow artist James Robertson, their wedding was held at the Marylebone Church in London. Christina gave birth to eight children, four of whom lived to adulthood: two sons, John and William, and two daughters, Agnes and Mary.

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Christina Robertson: A Scottish portraitist at the Russian Court (1996)

In 1823, she began exhibiting at the Royal Academy in London, and later with the Society of British Artists (starting from 1824) and the British Institution (from 1833), all of which her work was lauded by critics. By 1828 she had her own studio in London’s prestigious Harley Street.

Her work was used as the basis for engravings for magazines including The Court Magazine, La Belle Assemblée, Heath’s Book of Beauty and John Burke’s Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Females.

In 1837 she visited Paris where she painted portraits of a number of members of the Russian aristocracy. It was not long before her fame spread to the Russian nobility in St. Petersburg. Christina Robertson visited Russia on two extended periods: 1839-1841 and 1847-1854. 

In 1839, Robertson participated in an exhibition at the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, to great critical and public acclaim. As a result, in 1840, she was commissioned to paint for two full-length portraits, one of the Emperor Nicholas I and one of the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

It is believed that Robertson was also summoned to the Russian capital, where she was commissioned to replace some of the paintings which were lost in the fire that destroyed the Winter Palace in 1837. From 1839 to 1841 Christina Robertson carried out some of her finest portraits of members of the Russian Imperial family and nobility, which included full length portraits of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and her three daughters – the Grand Duchesses Maria, Olga and Alexandra Nikolaevna. In 1841, in recognition of her talent, she was made an honorary member of the Imperial Academy of Arts. Count M.D. Buturlin recalled in his memoirs that Robertson received “about one hundred thousand rubles in silver” for her work.

She remained in Russia for two years before returning to London, but St. Petersburg beckoned again, and in 1849, she returned to the Russian capital, where she established a studio, and continued to paint portraits at the Imperial Court. 

In 1850, she painted several portraits of the Emperor’s daughters-in-law Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna (future Empress Maria Alexandrovna), and Grand Duchess Maria Iosifovna (wife of Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich). The portraits were rejected by Nicholas I, and in September 1851, the Court ordered the custodian of the Hermitage Museum Fyodor Bruni to return all copies to Robertson without payment.

At the end of her life she was poor, and could not return to England due to lack of money. There is evidence that several of her noble clients had refused to pay her. The death of Robertson during the Crimean War (1853-56), during which the majority of the British colony in St Petersburg left Russia, sadly went unnoticed.

She died in St. Petersburg on 30 April 1854, and was buried in the Volkhov Lutheran cemetery in the Russian capital.

Roberstson left dozens of paintings that are important if only because they record the portraits of members of the Russian Imperial family. She is thought to be less well known that she might be as of the deterioration of the relationship between the British and Russian empires.

After the October Revolution, portraits of Robertson’s work, kept in private collections, were nationalized and sent to provincial museums. Thirteen of Robertson’s works are currently stored in the collection of the State Hermitage Museum. These include seven portraits of the Russian Imperial family, four portraits of members of the Yusupov family from the Yusupov Palace collection in St Petersburg, a portrait of Yu. F. Kurakin, and one of Robertson’s finest works – Children with a Parrot. Three portraits, which caused the discontent of Nicholas I in 1850, are kept in the collection of the Peterhof State Museum Preserve.

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Portrait Gallery of the Romanov Dynasty, State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

The largest collection of her work remains in the State Hermitage Museum to this day, where her portraits of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and her three daughters, the Grand Duchesses Maria, Olga and Alexandra Nikolaevna, currently hang in the Portrait Gallery of the Romanov Dynasty of the State Hermitage Museum. 

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 15 May 2018