Restoration of Pyasetsky's Great Siberian Railway
On 30 October 2007, at the Vitebsky Railway Station in St. Petersburg an exhibition was opened on the history and development of the railway for the 170th anniversary of the Russian Railway. The exhibition will display P. Pyasetsky's Trans-Siberian Railway Panorama following restoration.
The programme for the restoration of P. Pyasetsky's Trans-Siberian Railway Panorama (1894-1899) is the first and one of the most important stages in a large scale project involving the State Hermitage Museum and Russian Railroads JSC.
The grandiose panorama of the Great Siberian Railway, which had been preserved at the State Hermitage Museum, was the main artistic achievement of the talented and unorthodox sketcher who became a master of his genre, producing numerous sketches which document his route and the events that occurred during his travels.
The Office for Trans-Siberian Facilities, with Nicholas II was the head of committee, commissioned
P. Pyasetsky to paint a panorama of the Trans-Siberian Railway. For several years the artist, travelling by train and later in a special wagon, and often making use of animal drawn transport and bicycle, sketched the progress of the construction of the railway, bridges, fords; he captured images of large cities and settlements, small railway stations, working teams and railway depots. He depicted the railway from the Volga to Vladivostok on nine rolls with a total spread greater than 850 metres and represents almost 10,000 km of the Great Siberian Railway.
A significant part of the panorama consists of sketches made while travelling on a steamship along the Angara River, Baikal, and Amur River - places where the railway had at that stage only been planned.
In addition to the documentary pictures, the artist also creates a poetic image of the environment in Siberia, showing changing landscapes: the plains, mountainous and watery expanses at different times of day, in varied weather conditions.
In 1900 P. Pyasetsky placed his panorama on display at the Paris Exposition Universelle, where the panorama was awarded the gold medal by the jury and Pyasetsky himself was awarded the Legion d'honneur.
The large scale project for the simultaneous restoration of the nine rolls of the panorama, weighing from 17 to 25 kg each, began nearly two and a half years ago and was completed by a team from the Laboratory for Scientific Restoration of Works of Graphic Art (overseen by the laboratory director V.V. Kozyreva; the following artists and restorers were involved in the project: V.V. Guruleva, M.V. Matveeva, O.V. Mashneva, N.A. Petushkova, Ye.V. Rudakas, T.A. Sabyanina, S.A. Sevastianova, E.F. Tatarnikova, V.I. Khovanova, A.S. Churuksaeva, E.I. Shashkova; the overall manager of the project was the director for the Department for Restoration and Conservation, T.A. Baranova) of the State Hermitage Museum at the end of 2006.
During the first examination of the panorama the main damage which was discovered was typical of the damage which items receive when in storage. The panorama was extremely dirty, creased, distorted; serrations, breaks and aging had all occurred on the upper layer, stratification had occurred in the paper, layers were lifting from the paper base. On the surface of the front and back sides numerous pigment spots from mildew could be seen. Uneven yellowing of the paper base, water damage with consistent dark blooming, spotting from different causes resulted in distorting the original colouring.
Laboratory staff developed a special programme to use traditional methods acceptable for individual graphic pages to restore unusual and rare constructions - endlessly stretching out the glued fabrics on the paper canvas with water coloured paintings. For each type of work, the restorers had to unwind the panorama at least four times. Slowly the surface dirt was cleaned off, the various spots and streaks were faded along with the uneven yellowing. On fragments where the original paper had been lost, restoration of the paper was carried out, numerous tears and breaks on the surface layer were glued up, breaks, perforations and creases were supported. The restorers were also able to limit severe deformations and empty space occurring between the fabrics, paper and stratification of the actual paper base. With the completion of this extremely important stage of restoration, it was possible to carry out the tint coating for the parts which had lost the paper base or where the paint layer had been damaged.
As a result of the restoration which has been carried out the resilience of the original panorama has been recovered, the original base following the prevention of deformations and creases has become stable, while the colour of the paper base is now even and natural, and the paints have regained their former sonority.
The restoration enables us to move to the next stage in the joint project between the State Hermitage Museum and Russian Railroads, which anticipates the preparation of an academic publication printing the entire panorama, and also the possibility of producing an electronic version, organising and running other parts of the Great Siberian Railway Exhibition, and also producing reproductions and video versions of the panorama and much more.