ST. PETERSBURG, December 1. /TASS/. The museum exhibits that were lost by Russia in the 20th century as the Soviet government sold many treasures abroad can only be retrieved by buying them back, General Director of St. Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum Mikhail Piotrovsky said Tuesday.
According to him, there are no legal grounds to demand that the objects be returned from foreign countries.
"The exhibits stored in foreign museums as sold by the Soviet government back in the day were brought here from time to time and were exhibited in the Hermitage. We prepared exhibitions about it, I wrote a few scientific articles about how these sales were conducted. <…> They [Soviet leaders who made the decision to sell the treasures] committed a crime against the Russian culture. Unfortunately, we can barely return anything now. Lawyers conducted checks on the subject, establishing that they were sold legally and it is impossible to take away [the paintings] from Washington’s National Gallery [of Art] as Andrew Mellon had to sell the paintings bought in Russia there. However, maybe we can buy them," Piotrovsky noted.
In the 1920s, Soviet Russia decided to auction the most valuable museum exhibits to foreigners to boost the state coffers. Between 1928 and 1934, 2,880 Hermitage objects were sent to European auctions, of which 59 are internationally acclaimed masterpieces. Famous art collectors Calouste Gulbenkian and Andrew Mellon were the primary buyers. Hermitage representatives earlier said that the museum lost 50,000 objects between the first sales and up until the 1990s.
"When I was in the National Gallery in Washington <...> I gave a very sad interview about the paintings from the Hermitage. I said, you know, maybe at some point you will get poor and we will get rich and then we will buy them back. It was a dark joke, but in a few years’ time [Russian businessman] Viktor Vekselberg bought Faberge eggs from the Forbes collection which were sold by the Soviet government from the Kremlin where they were stored after the war. Everything is possible. We need to look forward more and buy what’s on the markets. Many museums grow poorer, we need to try to acquire something if philanthropists have money," the Hermitage general director noted.
He also said that sometimes the Hermitage is approached with offers to purchase ‘third rank’ objects which were sold by [Russian Emperor] Nicholas I. "But we do not need third rank," he pointed out.
Piotrovsky also underlined that he opposes selling any art objects from museums even if they are in need of funds. "I am categorically against selling anything from any museum even if the museum needs to spend something. It is not for business that museums receive objects but to pass them on to the next generation." "It [sale of items] is absolutely wrong, it is amoral. Everything that ended up in the museum should be passed on further," he emphasized.