A curator at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg has claimed that government authorities have seized archives and books at the institution’s shops related to the Soviet’s sale of art nationalised after the Bolshevik Revolution to Western collectors, sparking fears of an attempt to rewrite the country’s history. The museum, however, has denied an official ban of the material, saying that work is being done to “improve” how the archives are stored.
Last Thursday, 13 April, Alexey Larionov, a curator of Dutch, Flemish and German drawings in the museum’s department of Western European fine art, posted on Facebook that he could no longer keep silent about news that was being discussed “in every corner of the Hermitage”. According to Larionov, a committee of auditors—officially from the Ministry of Culture, but it was believed that most were actually “representatives from other agencies”—came to the Hermitage a couple of weeks ago to investigate claims that the museum had been “publishing “secret” documents over the course of many years’.” Larionov says they were referring to “eight fat volumes” published by the Hermitage starting in 2006, based on the museum’s archives of Soviet government art auctions planned and carried out in the 1920s to 1930s.
The fledgling regime was looking for fast cash at the time to jumpstart the country’s industrialisation, and targeted art from tsarist collections, including those of Catherine the Great, who founded the Hermitage. Among the masterpieces sold off were Raphael’s Alba Madonna, which