Laboratory for Scientific Restoration of Graphic Works
Director Tatiana A. Sabyanina
A workshop specializing in restoration of graphic works was set up in the Hermitage in 1921 to meet the need for preventive conservation work on the large collection of graphic materials which then numbered in excess of 700,000 exhibits.
During the years following World War II, when the museum began to arrange numerous temporary exhibitions, the ranks of the staff in the workshop were filled with specialists whose names are closely linked to the development of the modern methods of scientific restoration of graphic works in the Hermitage. The laboratory presently has two sectors which engage in the restoration of graphic works and library materials.
The Laboratory for Scientific Restoration of Graphic Works carries out conservation and restoration work on the most diverse types of art work executed on paper (primarily on rag laid paper) or parchment base. These include drawings, architectural blueprints, engravings, lithographs, prints, miniatures, pastels, old bank notes, fans, documents, papyri, tempera and oil paintings on paper and cardboard and also manuscripts and incunabula.
The laboratory restores graphic works executed in a variety of techniques such as charcoal, white and red chalk, white lead, Italian pencil, trial impression, Indian ink, bistre, sepia, iron-gallic ink and mixed technique on primed paper. This demands careful study of the specifics of the material and an individual approach to determining the methodology of restoration to be applied to every separate group of exhibits.
A complex method is used to restore drawings and documents on parchment which dry out and become misshapen over time. To correct these defects, after it is cleaned and dirt is removed, the parchment is softened on the reverse side. The deformations are eliminated by means of non-contact moisturizing. The base is straightened out and when necessary it is glued up and pressed flat.
Pastels, whether on parchment, canvas or paper, easily suffer from mechanical damage and growth of molds. The pastels which are taken in for restoration are first disinfected. The dirt and spots from molds are carefully removed from the surface. The deformations of the base material are corrected by stretching on a frame or cardboard.
To give the restored works a suitable presentation appearance, following all the restoration operations relating to cleaning and strengthening, their colour level is enhanced. Depending on the original medium, the pigment layer, where worn, is restored using watercolours, gouache, tempera, pastels or coloured and graphite pencils. To add tone to the filled-in parts in the margins and backgrounds of drawings and engravings, the restorers use watercolour, coloured pencils, gouache and vegetal pigments.
The most important and responsible work undertaken in the laboratory over the past several years was the restoration of 89 graphic works for the exhibition entitled "Masterpieces of Western European Drawing from Private Collections in Germany" (1995-1996). During the period 2000-2001, the laboratory restored nine gouaches by Jacob Philipp Hakkert (1737-1807) showing naval battles on parchment and belonging to the Naval Museum in St Petersburg. The laboratory prepared 72 pastels for the exhibition entitled "Pastels by Western European Artists from the 18th to Early 19th Centuries in the Hermitage Collection" (2001-2002).
Among the most complex assignments carried out by the staff in the library sector of the laboratory in recent years was restoration of the following very rare manuscripts: the Holy Gospel of St Mark (late 14th century), the Cilicia Bible (14th century, Armenia) and a Gospel (late 13th - early 14th century, Armenia). Special and individual methodologies of conservation were developed for these projects deploying a whole complex of chemical and biological investigations.
In 1997 the laboratory's restorers participated in a unique project on the Conservation and Study of Rembrandt Etchings in the D.A. Rovinsky Collection, which was carried out under the aegis of UNESCO. Working in the restoration workshop of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in close cooperation with their Dutch colleagues, the Hermitage restorers helped to perform a complex of conservation procedures on 634 etchings.
One remarkable example of interaction between different schools of conservation was the 1997-1998 restoration project undertaken jointly by the State Hermitage and the North-Eastern Centre for Conservation of Documents (NEDCC) in the USA. The object of this effort was conservation of the Levashov Family Album dating from the first quarter of the 19th century.
The staff members of the Laboratory for Scientific Restoration of Graphic Works participate in scholarly activities of their profession. They prepare and conduct seminars and conferences. They offer consultations and practical training courses relating to conservation of graphic works and documents for colleagues coming from other parts of Russia and from abroad
Restoration programmes:1. Restoration of letters patent and archive documents
2. Restoration of a series of portrait miniatures from the late 18th and 19th centuries
3. Restoration of prints for the "Parmigianino across the Centuries and the Arts" exhibition
4. Restoration of Western European pastels dating from the 16th-20th centuries
5. Restoration of Chinese popular prints - nianhua
6. Conservation of works of graphic art from the Museum of Porcelain Department
7. Restoration of Jacob Xavery's graphic work The Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard
8. Restoration of nine panoramic views by Pavel Piasetsky "The Great Siberian Route. The Transsiberian Railway (1894-1899)"
Restoration of book bindings