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Hermitage Museum chief finds pieces of art sale from museum collections unacceptable

May 02, 2014, 10:02 UTC+3 LONDON
The Hermitage Museum director noted that “works of art which are delivered to museums are not a property of a museum or a state they are a property of the humankind"
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© ИТАР-ТАСС/Вадим Жернов

LONDON, May 02, 9:52 /ITAR-TASS/. Sale of pieces of art from collections of museums is unacceptable, Director of State Hermitage Museum Mikhail Piotrovsky said at a presentation of British edition of book Selling Russia’s Treasures at London auction house MacDougall’s specialised in Russian art on Thursday evening.

The book written by art historians Natalia Semenova and Nikolay Ilyin tells about the sale of masterpieces from the State Hermitage Museum collection to increase Soviet foreign currency revenues in the 1920s-1930s.

“This book is devoted to a very dramatic episode of Russian history which is very important from the philosophical point of view,” Mikhail Piotrovsky believes, noting that sale of some exhibits of museums for purchasing the new ones named deaccession is a wide-spread practice in the West. However, Piotrovsky finds it unacceptable and believes that sale of pieces of art from the Hermitage Museum collection proves that.

“A museum is not just a place for storing pieces of art,” Piotrovsky noted, adding that “This is a living organism and everything that was brought to the museum should remain there and no deals can be struck with pieces of art.” He added that “not all people agree on this,” but experience of the State Hermitage Museum showed that “It is better not to make a decision what is “a bad art” and what is “a good art” and “how it is better to use pieces of art that passed to you in heritage.”

He noted in the years of sweeping political and economic reforms named Perestroika an idea of selling pieces of art from the State Hermitage Museum collection was put forth, but the museum directorate has rejected such an opportunity strongly. “Such books helped us to protect our collection. We said, “Did you hear us saying that we find such actions criminal? Please, do not ask us about this,” Piotrovsky said.

Several British participants in debates at the presentation said that sale of several Hermitage Museum masterpieces was good, because it helped to step up an interest to the fine arts in the United States which was “a province” in terms of museum business then. For instance, 31 pictures from the State Hermitage Museum, mainly masterpieces of Renaissance artists have made the backbones of the collection at the Washington National Gallery of Arts, which was formed on a basis of the art collection of U.S. billionaire Andrew Mellon who was the secretary of the U.S. Treasury and one of largest picture buyers from the Soviet government.

The Hermitage Museum director noted that “works of art which are delivered to museums are not a property of a museum or a state they are a property of the humankind.” “We inherited them from previous generations and we should pass them to future generations,” he added.

Piotrovsky also recalled pictures from British statesman Robert Walpole’s collection which Russian Empress Catherine the Great had bought and which had made the initial Hermitage Museum collection were temporarily put on display in Great Britain in the previous year.

Piotrovsky also noted that he had met Lord Arthur Douro who was a descendant of great British commander and defeater of Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces at Waterloo, Field Marshall Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington. At the meeting they discussed a possible temporary exhibition at Apsley House, home of the first Duke of Wellington and his descendants in London, as well as a portrait of this British commander by French painter Jean-Leon Gerome from the State Hermitage Museum. This picture was put on a list of pieces of art subject to sale in the past, but it was not sold and was found recently in the storage of the St. Petersburg museum.

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