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Quest for Exhibition "Attacking the Winter Palace". Evacuation of Valuables in 1917
September 26, 2017 11:38

From September 15 to December 31, 2017, the Grand Staircase of the New Hermitage Museum is hosting a spot exhibition on how its rarities and treasures were rescued from plunder in 1917.  
On August 25, 1917, under the threat of bombing by Germany, the Provisional Government of Russia took the decision “to unload Petrograd and its area”. It was about the evacuation of government agencies, including the Winter Palace and the Hermitage Museum.
On the same day at the General Meeting of the Hermitage Museum, Count Dmitry Ivanovich Tolstoy, the museum director, spoke of the grave danger from the Zeppelin bombing and the threat of looting the museum by the German invaders or the mob. Worried about the collections, the Hermitage staff started packing the most valuable exhibits even before the government ordered evacuation, promulgated on September 1, 1917. As follows from the minutes of the General Meeting at the Hermitage, by August 25, 650 boxes were “packed and ready to be shipped”.
Crown diamonds – the symbols of the imperial power, genealogical books and treasures from the Jewel Gallery, earlier kept in the Winter Palace, left for Moscow in August 1914, immediately after the outbreak of World War I, and were stored in the Kremlin Armory. Now the royal throne and the palace silver were to be taken out of the palace. Custodian Nikolai Dementyev handled the preparation for parceling the valuables kept in the Winter Palace. Work on the selection of exhibits was conducted jointly with the Art Commission. The overall management of the evacuation was entrusted to Prince Sergei Gagarin, acting head of the Chancery of the former Court Ministry, and Prince Ivan Ratiev, assistant chief of the Petrograd Palace Management.
Preparation for the export of valuables was kept secret, and all letters that came to the Hermitage under the signature of Prince Gagarin were marked as confidential.
The first shipment of boxes was transported with an "emergency train" on September 15, 1917. The Hermitage treasures were guarded by the senior custodian, State Councilor Yakov Smirnov and the library head, State Counselor Stepan Gamalov-Churaev. No sooner had the custodians returned to Petrograd, as the next consignment was already in the queue. It was necessary to pack paintings, sculptures, the most valuable part of the numismatic collection and rare books. This was a very difficult task, given the shortage of manpower and packaging materials. Nevertheless, on October 7 the second train departed from the Nikolaevskaya railroad freight station and safely arrived in Moscow. All the valuables ​​were taken by the Moscow Palace Department and placed in the Armory Chamber and the Moscow State History Museum.
The departure of the third train was scheduled for October 25, 1917. On this day, the revolutionaries attacked the Winter Palace. The train failed to leave the city.
The spot exposition is a fragment of the future large-scale exhibition "The Winter Palace and the Hermitage Museum in 1917", which will kick off on October 25, 2017.
Curators of the exhibition program are Vyacheslav Fyodorov, head of the History Department of Russian Culture, and Elena Solomakha, deputy head of the Manuscripts Department and Documentary Fund of the State Hermitage Museum. The curator of the spot exhibition is Anna Konivets, Senior Researcher of the State Hermitage Museum.


Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Hermitage Museum Exhibitions in St. Petersburg    

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