Museum Life in Wartime. Tretyakov Gallery staff recall the trials of the Great Patriotic War

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Victory: 75
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#1 2020 (66)

Yelena Terkel and Lyubov Chetverukhina (Eds.)

The outbreak of war in June 1941 heralded years of anxiety and endurance for the Tretyakov Gallery. With the German front approaching Moscow and aerial bombing of the city intensifying, the evacuation of its treasures was initiated, with consignments departing by train for Siberia, to Novosibirsk, and one load dispatched by river barge to Perm. Despite extensive damage to the premises of the Gallery itself, ongoing temporary exhibitions were held there from autumn 1942 as part of the war effort. These extracts from memoirs of the Tretyakov staff - such testaments are predominantly those of women, on whom the greater part of the burden away from the front line fell - make vivid the perils of such journeys, as well as the difficulties they experienced in settling at their destinations.

The Great Patriotic War brought enormous challenges and hardships, felt not only on the front line itself but also far behind it: everywhere people did all that they could to bring Victory closer. In the case of the Tretyakov Gallery, most of the staff went to the front, leaving the responsibility for looking after the museum's treasures of Russian art to the few who remained behind, the majority of them women.

In the most difficult conditions, with the city being bombed, they continued to organize guided tours for soldiers who were preparing to leave for the front. With the line of battle approaching Moscow, it became necessary to quickly prepare the Gallery's huge collection for evacuation. Only such heroic, well-coordinated work meant that, when a bomb fell on the Gallery and destroyed various halls, no works of art were damaged. Yelena Silversvan, whose responsibilities at the Tretyakov Gallery then included bookkeeping and preservation, drafted the instruction “Storage under conditions of air defence and chemical defence", which described how artworks should be treated in areas that lay close to the front as well as during evacuation. Such preparations proved very timely: on July 20 1941 the first train with treasures from the Tretyakov Gallery, as well as about 50 employees and their families, departed by rail for Novosibirsk, where an affiliate branch of the Gallery had been set up.

After the bombing of Moscow and the partial destruction of the museum's building, another batch of exhibits was urgently evacuated, this time by water. They were sent by river barge, first to the city of Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod), then from there onwards to Molotov (now Perm). Responsibility for this second museum cargo was entrusted to Maria Kolpakchi, who worked at the Gallery from 1925 to 1971, for many years heading the cataloguing department. She made every effort to ensure that under these most difficult transportation conditions nothing was damaged. It was not possible to organize an affiliate branch of the Gallery in Molotov, and only two employees had accompanied the exhibits there. The conditions in which they lived were testing, with salaries, which came from the Novosibirsk branch, often arriving only very late, while ration cards were not always issued on schedule. The evacuated works were placed in the local art museum, which occupied the building of a church.

In Novosibirsk, the newly arrived staff and their valuable cargo were accommodated in the building of the unfinished Opera House: the Gallery's director Alexander Zamoshkin was in charge, with Milda Bush, his permanent assistant and an excellent administrator, as his deputy. She was very concerned about those in Perm, as her letter to Maria Kolpakchi in 1942 makes clear: “I was very saddened by the fact that you were seriously ill in winter and spring, that physical ailments and isolation from the rest of us have depressed you so. In this regard, of course, it is easier for us who are together; when you share your joy and grief, the first becomes fuller and deeper, the second you will overcome the sooner."[1]

In Novosibirsk, living conditions were very difficult at first, too. Yelena Kamenskaya, a very young woman then, left detailed memoirs about the time; she worked at the Tretyakov Gallery for more than half a century, from 1939 onwards in the department of Old Russian art, which she headed in 1944. From Kamenskaya's memoirs, we know how difficult it was for the women in evacuation: in addition to their main tasks involving the maintenance of the collection, as well as lecturing, research and subsequent exhibition work, there was compulsory community service, including journeys to distant vegetable allotments. These women not only had to carry pictures around, but firewood and sacks of vegetables too.

But the fate of those who remained behind in Moscow was the hardest of all, especially in the winter of 1941-1942. The building of the Tretyakov Gallery was damaged, without glass in the windows, part of the roof missing. Most of the collection had been evacuated, with the remaining objects of lesser value and the frames hidden in the basement bomb shelter, where the employees themselves would hide. They tried to continue with research in the few premises in which it was possible to work, although there was no heating. But even though half-starved, they did not give up. As soon as the Nazis had been driven back, repairs began on the building, and the exhibition “The Great Patriotic War" soon opened in several halls.

Pavel Tretyakov's granddaughter Marina Gritsenko wrote later: “I remembered how in 1942, in conditions of cold and hunger, under the most difficult conditions for transport, with a lack of materials, people and, most of all, physical strength, we worked, frozen and shivering in the twilight of the autumn days in the bombed rooms, where like an ‘oasis' several halls were repaired for the exhibition ‘The Great Patriotic War'; we worked all the time, bringing paintings in from around the city, frames up from the basement where they had been left, and the show opened at exactly the designated time, two o'clock on November 8 1942. Despite the fact that on that same morning, the newly renovated cornice in the large hall (now the Surikov Hall) collapsed! It was restored in a few hours, the floors washed down again, and even some kind of ‘flowers' appeared. All the work was done with an extraordinary enthusiasm and love!"[2] Life in Moscow was gradually getting better and, in 1944, all the evacuated works and staff returned. The Tretyakov Gallery formally re-opened its doors on May 17 1945.

These remembrances of the Tretyakov staff about everyday life in those war years were recorded from 1965 to 1970 and are essentially the memories of the women who endured all the hardships of wartime to preserve the collection. The words of those who lived through this period tell their stories better than any formal history could do: some are published here for the first time. They are kept in the Department of Manuscripts, and have been edited to accord with modern spelling and punctuation, while preserving the authors' style.

 

Yelena Vladimirovna Silversvan

From the memoirs of Yelena Vladimirovna Silversvan, head of the bookkeeping and storage departments of the Tretyakov Gallery, later chief custodian. She remained in Moscow through the war.[3]

I remember that in the very first days of the war the Gallery continued to operate more or less as normal, but less than a week had gone by before it became clear that the exhibits were in danger given the possibility of air raids on Moscow. It was decided to remove the displays immediately and urgently pack them up in event of evacuation. And although no one ever believed that the enemy could reach Moscow, the entire staff of the Gallery, as one, headed by dir.[ector] A.I. Zamoshkin busied themselves with this task, and the faster events unfolded at the front, the more intensely the packing up continued.

People worked literally tirelessly from six or seven in the morning to nine or ten at night, for as long as it was light.

Artists, sculptors and students of the Secondary Art School came of their own accord to help, and by 15/VII more than 300 crates with our most valuable works were loaded into [railway] wagons; they departed for Novosibirsk, accompanied by director A.I. Zamoshkin, the head of administration department A.I. Arkhipov, the restorer K.A. Fedorov, and the foreman V.M. Klimov. In this consignment were works such as [Alexander Ivanov's] “The Appearance of Christ to the People" and [Vasily Surikov's] “Boyarina Morozova", which, due to their size, went on an open wagon, making their packaging especially complicated and demanding, just as it was for Repin's “Ivan the Terrible", the state of which was extremely precarious following the damage done to it in 1913.[4]

At the same time, the departure of those staff members who were to be evacuated started. It was hard for all of us, both those who were leaving and those who remained behind. No one knew if we would ever see one another again. At the end of July, staff numbers were reduced as far as possible and only a minimum remained. The bombing became incessant.

At the first raid several incendiary bombs fell on the Gallery, one falling in Hall 17, where it was neutralized thanks to the combined efforts of staff. Over the days that followed, such bombs and shrapnel fell frequently on the grounds, but did not do much harm to the Gallery, except for shattering the glass in the windows.

However, in early August, as a result of the force of the explosion of a large bomb that fell on Ordynka Street, Halls 5 and 49 were completely destroyed [as was Hall 6 - Eds.], their walls, ceilings and floors demolished, as was the large sculpture (of Stalin) that stood on the main platform of the staircase, while glass flew everywhere, heaps of it lying across the floors, with the wind blowing through the halls; we received orders to urgently pack up all the remaining items of value in the Gallery.

This work was carried out swiftly, and after three days 84 crates, including huge sculptures such as Antokolsky's “Ivan the Terrible", were loaded onto barges and sent by water, accompanied by M.M. Kolpakchi and the restorer Ovchinnikov to Gorky, and from there to Molotov. We continued to pack the works that remained in the Gallery, and somehow continued our work in departments, as it was relatively quiet in the area.

But at the beginning of November, the most awful catastrophe happened, when five bombs of great power fell right around the Gallery in one night and a direct hit destroyed one of the wings, where employees were living. One of our technicians Nastya Malikova, a cheerful young woman, was killed with her eight-year-old son. The other residents survived only by a miracle. The heating in the Gallery was completely destroyed, part of the buildings where the photographic library was located were demolished, [the temperature] in the storage areas fell to 20 [degrees of] frost.

Nevertheless, it was possible to manage the transportation of a further 80 crates, although extremely difficult given that Moscow was surrounded by then on almost all sides. The dep. director S.I. Pronin and S.I. Bityutskaya left with this party. It took them more than a month to reach Novosibirsk in the most difficult conditions.

More of the employees still at the Gallery were also evacuated to Novosibirsk at the end of October; by that time only a small group of staff remained - G.A. Zhidkov, A.V. Lebedev, A.I. Arkhangelskaya, A.V. Feofanova, Ye.S. Medvedev, M.N. Raichinshtein, O.I. Gaponova, A.M. Lesyuk, A.N. Shchekotova, M.F. Saveliev and myself.

There were also 10-12 technical personnel, among whom I most clearly remember from those terrible days T.P. Bespalova, Irina Guseva, A.F. Pakhalchuk, Auntie Pasha Averina, Lyuba Karpukhina, Katya Fedina, old Sipaev, Subbotina, Denisova and Klava Zapolskaya.

How we dragged frames about, moving the remaining packing crates from one hall to another, sometimes ankle-deep in water, or up to our knees in snow, trying to hide them from the incessant raids - we, and we alone, will remember that.

After that last catastrophe, our tasks became effectively custodial. Office work (small reports, discussions, etc.) ceased due to the cold in the rooms. The gloomy, heavy November and December days stretched, with their endless patrols of the Gallery and the night guard shifts.

When we said goodbye to each other each evening, we never knew whether we would meet again the next day. Those night-time gallery patrols! Whose heart did not sink when, by the flickering light of a “Bat" kerosene lantern, we had to make our way through the broken, floorless halls down an icy narrow bridge, in reality just a few planks, especially from Hall 6 to the main staircase; but our small team was not discouraged, firmly believing that the Germans would not take Moscow. All life in Moscow stopped for these months. The streets were covered in huge snowdrifts, only an occasional passer-by made his or her way along the paths that had been laid down, no street lighting, no sound other than the “air raids".

But how joyful it was when, already in January, the bombardments began to subside, and it became possible to gradually restore what had been destroyed. At that time, with the help of military construction battalions, repair work began at the Gallery, and our deputy administrative director soon returned, and the work took on a wider scale, and already by autumn [19]42 the exhibition “The Great Patriotic War" opened in several halls. True, there was a disaster with that, too. On the opening day, the stucco, which had come away from part of the wall, collapsed, along with the entire display beneath it. How we managed to put it right within a few hours, I still don't know. I only remember the zeal with which A.V. Feofanova and A.I. Arkhangelskaya, both already elderly women, despite all my protests, armed themselves with shovels to drag out the rubbish. How busy our painter Zhukov (who would soon be dead) was. The exhibition was a great success, and then a number of others followed - “At the Front and Behind the Lines", “The Oldest Artists", a number of group exhibitions, and the like. The Gallery was soon restored, and some employees returned from evacuation - A.S. Galushkina, V.V. Yermonskaya (from logging in the forests) and a number of others...

Throughout the summer of 1944, the Gallery was preparing to receive back the works that had been evacuated, the entire building was completely repaired, the windows glazed and frames repaired, etc. And then one cold, gloomy rainy day, which seemed to us as joyful and bright as could possibly be, the trucks with the artworks drove through the wide open gates of the Gallery. How great was the joy of our meeting both our dear comrades and the exhibits of the Gallery. We immediately went about unpacking them, work proceeding at an almost frantic rate in the Gallery.

 

Yelena Fyodorovna Kamenskaya

From the memoirs of Yelena Fyodorovna Kamenskaya, a researcher at the Tretyakov Gallery, about the evacuation to Novosibirsk.[5]

The train journey from Moscow to Novosibirsk took three weeks. We travelled on the northern route through Yaroslavl and Perm. The train constantly kept stopping, standing for hours, without a locomotive. The demand for locomotives was acute, and they tried to give them to the military units: troops were being brought from Siberia, while the seriously wounded were being transported from the front. Our precious cargo didn't inspire any special respect from the railway authorities.

However, for me personally, I came to like those long halts in the fields, in the midst of nature. I got to know the forests near Perm, the steppes of Siberia.

As well as that, peasants would come to the train from the villages and offer for sale all kinds of food: milk, eggs, chicken, even meat. They often sold black pastries (made from black flour) with a potato filling, and pancakes of the same kind. In exchange they asked us for wooden and metal combs, sewing needles and pins. This was because the factories had either closed or had switched to defence work, the mass production of tanks and guns.

From the piece of meat and potatoes that we bought we made soup, a luxurious and wholesome meal in the situation of being in a train wagon. But... there was nowhere to cook. More than 50 people were travelling with us, and there was only one tiny electric bar. When we stopped, out in the steppe, the restorers and Klimov and Arkhip Ivanovich made fires on the ground to boil food. I would grab a pan of meat and water and jump down from the highest steps (there was no platform), splashing water from the pot, rushing to the fire. Alas. As soon as I had fixed the pan over the fire, just the right way, a locomotive would turn up, and back I had to clamber into the train. So that day there was no soup. But the next day I was smarter. The train once again halted for a few hours. There would have been time to cook a whole dinner! The water over the fire began to heat straightaway and this time everything boiled in an instant. But there were times where the train was moving off, and you had to pull yourself up onto the high steps with the boiling pan of food that wasn't cooked yet. I managed it thanks to my old trapeze training and the agility of my movements, which I had practiced so hard as a young girl.

We would run to get boiling water at the large stations, where the train would stop for at least half an hour. The train didn't come in close to the platform, but would stand on the third or fourth, sometimes the fifth track, and all those in between had trains that were standing still or moving. It was no easy task to get past them, with a kettle, and reach the building of the railway station. I had to crawl either under the cars (if they were stationary) or through the gaps. It had to be done quickly, without a sigh or a moment's hesitation. My only concern was to find food and water for my mother, who had left her apartment and job in Moscow to accompany me through all these difficulties. I would come back with a full kettle of water but, alas, it lost half its heat while I was making my way back. And yet, despite all such trials, we had food every day. That autumn in Moscow, for some reason, the shops had released their reserve stores and we were given (in the city) before we left some flour and sunflower oil, butter, sugar, sweets, and many tins of canned crab. The crab, it seems, had been sent us by the Americans [in fact, it had come from Vladivostok - Ed.].

In the train, life went on quietly. Little Vera Fyodorovna Rumyantseva, our “fairy" storyteller, showed an unexpected talent: she had gifts as an actor and would perform, either improvising or recalling various scenes from literature.

But the real soul of the party turned out to be Olga Antonovna Lyaskovskaya. For hours, she read aloud from the long novel about medieval life that she had written not long before, describing the work and life of an outstanding, talented French architect of that era, the one who built the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Olga Ant. had been to France, where she had seen this masterpiece of architecture, describing it, and the life of its creator in her novel.

All this brightened up our wretched life and distracted us from gloomy thoughts. Many of us had left behind dear ones - our husbands or fathers - and everyone had something to be anxious, to suffer about. With us it was Andrei, my brother, mother's beloved son, who had gone to the front.

Sometimes when the train stopped we got out to take a walk, and sometimes we would go to a nearby village mistakenly thinking there might be something to buy. I remember how we almost lost little Vera Fyodorovna once. With her inherent intrepidness, and her inherent impracticality too, she had gone off far away to a village that was visible on the horizon. We were all alarmed when the news came that a locomotive had been attached to the train, and it might move off at any moment. Everyone was glued to the windows, looking out for her. Someone got out and called, but there was no chance of her hearing.

Then she reappeared on the horizon, a tiny, tiny figure against the bare field. It took her at least half an hour to reach us. Happily the train went on standing there still longer.

The scenes from the Middle Ages out of Olga Antonovna's novel with their fantastical details of architecture became strangely intertwined with the shaking and banging of the old train compartment, with our then everyday life, with thoughts of war, with all our sorrows and worries.

P. Karshilova kept herself presentable, cheerfully and energetically. In the mornings, if the train had halted, we would see her, hiding in the bushes, washing herself with freshly fallen snow from the waist up...

We were on the train for the October public holidays. It was an unforgettable day. The train was standing in a field, not far from a few villages. The peasants began to approach with their humble wares for sale...

It was Siberia already, with its gloomy spaces empty as deserts and majestic distant views. It was getting a little colder, snow already lying on the fields. When we approached Novosibirsk, it was already more than 20 degrees below zero...

Novosibirsk didn't want to take us in. Our train stopped somewhere behind the [River] Ob, on a siding...

Novosibirsk is a peculiar city. The centre follows Krasny Prospekt, straight and infinitely long, very metropolitan, with its large comfortable buildings, a department store, an excellent new hospital, and capacious new public baths. Right next to all this, if you went a few lanes to one side, you would see an amazing picture. Empty spaces suddenly appeared, an abyss, or a giant ravine-canyon going down to the Ob, washed out over the centuries by the flow of water every spring. It was so huge and wide that you could hardly make out what was on the other side. And all around this canyon, on all sides, there were tiny wooden houses, each with just a window or two.

To fully appreciate this spectacle, Nat[alya] Danil[ovna] Morgunova took me to the “canyon" one evening, when each house was lighting up its lights. At seven o'clock in the evening the whole space shone with a shallow light. It really was true that in Siberia everything is huge, exorbitant, almost inhuman in size. Before my eyes, this vast space shone with lights like in a fairy tale. It seemed like a dream, it was so fantastical.

At the branch of the Gallery, where we were heading, we were met with evident displeasure. It was a dormitory hostel, located in the building of the large, still unfinished Opera House, which stood right on the large square in the very centre of the city, next to Krasny Prospekt. There were rooms you could live in. Those who had come first had long settled in with their families. Zamoshkin ordered them to take us in too, to make room. But the reality was that there wasn't any room and, when you went in, you just wedged yourself into the family, disrupting their life. We could all see this, but there was no other way. So my mother and I were squeezed into a big, superior-class room, in which a family of five was living. You can imagine how we felt, our awkwardness in front of these lodgers. This large chamber had bunks standing against the wall, and we were offered them.

Mama had to lie down immediately, she wasn't well. The nervous shock of everything we'd been through had given her heart palpitations. Someone called the clinic, and a female doctor came, settled her down, and gave me some medicine. Her attack passed quite quickly. I began to fuss about what we would eat, and new difficulties began. We had an electric bar stove, but the woman
in charge of the room forbade us to use the only plug, as it was for the family. To make tea for mama, I had to go to the next room and find somewhere a spare plug. Fortunately, not faraway was the kindly Z.T. Zonova, who helped me with this in the days that followed. After giving mother something to eat and drink, I ran off to the public baths, which was extremely necessary indeed. It turned out that some shops were open in the city, so far working without ration cards. They were handing out 200 grams of butter a person. But the frost was intense, and the queue long. With mama, who was already feeling better and back on her feet, we managed to get some... These were the final days when things were being sold freely, then everything went over to ration cards. There was also a canteen, where they accepted coupons for lunch, which if you wanted you could take out. But it was soup - water with some bones floating in it, and for second course a compote - also water with a few pieces of dried fruit.

Over time, everything became easier. The Gallery staff began to receive a fairly large ration, the main thing was grey bread made from coarsely ground flour, 1.5 kilograms per day a person. It was an indescribable blessing, since if you didn't eat it all, this bread could be exchanged in the market for milk, butter and meat, for eggs. The market was quite far away - a walk of an hour and a half, and I often froze to the bones on the road and in the bazaar itself. The frosts were Siberian, minus 25 or minus 30...

The crates with the paintings and icons from the Tretyakov Gallery were stored in the new Opera House. It had been built before the war, but there hadn't been time to finish it. However, it was almost all ready. It was an incredibly large building, round in form, with [variously] two or three floors, vague and awkward in shape. It was intended as a centre of culture, so had many rooms. Its upper floor at window level was surrounded by a long covered balcony, all around the circle of the building, and gloomy. This balcony took almost all the light away from the windows, so that when we were living there short term, the rooms were dark. The ground floor had rooms too, they were supposed to be light in the afternoon from the windows, but they weren't, the windows were just long, narrow strips.

Moreover, these windows, through which you couldn't see anything, you couldn't open them in the summer heat either, so even in summer you couldn't air the room. The building stood in the middle of the square in the centre of the city, this square a huge wasteland of pits and mounds formed by rubbish that had never been taken away. In winter, this space was all covered with snow, and it was almost impassable. As well as everything else, the wind was so strong in that wasteland that it knocked you off your feet, you could only get around on all fours...

Towards the end of our stay in Novosibirsk, the theatre began to stage performances, starting with touring musical or theatre companies.

That was how the Obraztsov Puppet Theatre came to be there. In order to make out the puppets, the audience had to get up close to the ramp and stand there the whole performance. At around the same time, the Moscow Philharmonic delighted us with a visit, and there, in this city so far from the heart of the country, beyond the expanse of the cold steppes, they played Shostakovich's Seventh, the war symphony [the “Leningrad"]. You can imagine with what excitement we listened to this music voicing the roar of the war that was [hardly] ending, the bleak and cruel news coming from the front, all of it still there in our soul.

There was something uplifting, something cheerful about the crowds of people in winter coats who came to the exhibitions that we staged at the theatre, in the lobby of the Opera House. The citizens of Novosibirsk had the chance to see genuine works by Repin and Vasnetsov, rather than copies or photographs. For the provinces, it was a miracle, an unprecedented turn of fate. In such a way we showed [Vasily] Perov's “Troika", [Ilya] Repin's “They Did Not Expect Him", [Ivan] Shishkin's “Forest". It was there, in that auditorium not meant for concerts, that we listened to one conducted by the famous [Yevgeny] Mravinsky. Everybody and everything had been evacuated from Moscow, to escape the bombardment...

The precious cargo of the Gallery, packed in crates, was stored in the Opera House building. As well as what had come from the Tretyakov, it also accommodated crates from 14 other evacuated museums, transported there in the same manner... Our main concern was how to arrange those with the paintings. The massive theatre's premises served for this, with its huge, wide foyer, the enormous buffet room, the rehearsal hall, etc. A significant part, almost the entire collection of the Gallery, was accommodated in the huge room of the buffet, painted in just two colours. The boxes stood on top of each other, in two or three levels, with gaps between them, and in the centre of the hall was the humidification system, with a table for viewing exhibits and chairs for those on duty...

From the very first day of our arrival, all of the Gallery's academic staff were on guard duty, one at a time. We had to be with the crates day and night. We had four hours' duty in the morning and four in the evening, with an interval for lunch. So, from four to eight in the morning and from four to eight in the evening, and on the other days midnight to four in the morning and then from noon to four in the afternoon. There were days off, too...

Everything was mysterious, alarming and unusual in this huge building. One shift, I was on duty on the ground floor of the theatre, in the farthest part of the lobby. The whole width of the room was filled with our crates. It was more fun there, the fire guards would drop in, exchanging a word. The fireman on duty would turn to me with a sympathetic look and say how sorry he was for me, they were forcing me to read aloud, what a very difficult thing that was. And I was just dreaming of reading!

Suddenly, a human shadow slipped past us. Someone was running away, afraid to be seen. It was night, and all the doors were locked. Except not in this building, of course, where achieving that sort of control somehow just wasn't possible. The fireman immediately chased after the shadow, but it disappeared in the weak light, dissolving into the dark corners. Soon a policeman came to search too, but found no one. There was no way of getting out, and we were left to wonder where this unknown person could have gone. Later I found out that underneath the floor was a large empty space for cables, pipes and wires. But this passage was so large that you could get around in it freely, and it had clearly been discovered by [the city's] street children. And that had been one of them, coming across us and not wanting to be discovered, scurrying away past us into some manhole that only he knew.

The secret life of this incomprehensible, unfinished building, one quite unlike anything I knew, suddenly appeared before me. Everything was unexpected and dangerous, not like in ordinary buildings. No one from the management kept the place in order, the building was being finished one small step at a time, which needed workers, which meant that anyone could get in, at any time.

In the research department room, where we worked in what time we had left from our guard duties, a home-made table had been set up for the staff - just sheets of plywood laid across a wooden base, on which we put papers, books, pens and pencils. The slightest press on the plywood, and everything would fly up on end, sending things falling onto our knees or the floor.

The rooms were cold, heated only a little to save energy, and we used to sit there in our fur coats and felt boots. It all reminded us of the troubles and hardships of war...

We spent a lot of time at the allotments. But the fresh vegetables and new potatoes were a wonderful addition to our diet. And I appreciated the gardens for the chance to spend some time in nature.

There were a lot of specifically funny things connected with the allotments. By mistake I had been classed as an invalid, so unfit for physical work. And then suddenly Kamenskaya got a harvest that was better than anyone's. So I got a piece of land of 100 square meters in the shared gardens that were seven kilometers from where we lived, one that nobody else wanted. In the middle of this patch there was a stump with tall grass around it, with wild strawberries growing by the stump. I was delighted with it, densely overgrown with the tall grass. I had to dig away at it for a long time to get down to the soil, almost exhausting myself turning over the turf. I made good work of it, leaving the stump and strawberries as they were. I returned to the plot several times to improve it and enjoy the stump and the wild strawberries. I planted some good potatoes, of the Lorch variety. Then what a wonder! By autumn, the potato tops were green and ready, and the harvest was extraordinary: more than a sack of wonderful large potatoes. The experi enced gardeners came to ask me for seeds. It was my mother who had brought the Lorch seeds from her work - she had gone into the job as a bookkeeper - where there was an active gardening club...

Autumn 1944 arrived, and it was time to return to Moscow. No matter how well we had finally settled in at the Novosibirsk branch, we wanted to get back home. But in Novosibirsk we now had generous rations, and plenty of room to live in, since many had already left for Moscow, and the hostel was empty.

But we were still homesick, and many had left loved ones behind.

By the will of merciless fate, we had no one left, no one waiting for us. But the war was ending in victory, and we were full of joy and an impatience to return...

After the meeting, we started loading crates onto the vehicles. And though we had explained to the military for a long time that this was a cargo that had to be treated with extreme care, there were still problems. A military escort rode in the cab of each truck. But the researchers had also been instructed to accompany each vehicle, with their things. I had to climb up onto a truck full of crates to get to the station. However, the road to the station wasn't good and even all the way. At the beginning of the journey we had to go through the huge courtyard with all its pits and gullies. The ground was covered with snow, but under the snow it was full or rubbish. All this took a few minutes, but it wasn't dangerous.

I remember how one time I was up on a vehicle, at the rear, among the crates. One of them, tall and unstable, towered in front of me, rocking at every bump. I had to get up, lifting myself off the floor, leaning first to the right, then to the left, hesitating, until it was back up straight again, then the next moment threatening to knock me over again. You couldn't hold onto it, either. I remember how Alexander Ivanovich, the director, looked at me anxiously, but he couldn't do anything. It all lasted just a few seconds. Once we'd left the yard we set off down Krasny Prospekt, all flat again, and drove on without incident. When we reached the turn to the rail tracks, I jumped down, expecting more bumps, and ran alongside next to the load.

Then we had to do night shifts on the train while i t was being loaded . We guarded our cargo ourselves. It wasn't easy at all, with a frost of minus 20, and snow on the ground.

Then the day came when we too got into the train, with our belongings. This time the journey went at the normal speed. Three days later, we were in Moscow, where we faced the same tasks: to unload the train and take the crates to the Gallery.

 

Maria Modestovna Kolpakchi

From the memoirs of Maria Modestovna Kolpakchi, senior researcher at the Tretyakov Gallery, about the evacuation to Molotov (Perm).[6]

I was on my own in Moscow. Morning. I packed some things. Then a phone call - report urgently to the Gallery. Off I went...

M.G. Bush tells me that an order has come from M.B. Khrapchenko[7] about the urgent dispatch of works in the second stage of evacuation, by water, and that I need to go immediately to the River Station and inspect the suitability of the barge provided for the transportation of cargo from the Tretyakov...

August 15 - in the morning we were all at work - at 11 o'clock Bush calls me and announces that I am going with the Gallery's cargo to Gorky, possibly further to Perm, adding that she had nothing to do with it: from the candidates submitted to Khrapchenko, he approved yours [she said]. This message almost knocked me out. I objected strongly that this was being done against my will, without asking me, that I was not going to evacuate, I could not leave the Gallery and Moscow at such a difficult time - nothing helped. No change was possible, I heard in response. “How can I go off alone with 84 crates?" - “Restorer I.V. Ovchinnikov is travelling with you..."

At half-past one I left the Gallery. At six I left for the River Station. Exactly at seven o'clock that evening the barge began to slowly pull away from the shore. Bidding us farewell from the shore were V.A. Shkvarikov, from the Committee of Arts, and the head of the River Station.

A.F. Akimov was in charge of the barge. It was accompanied by a militarized guard of four.

At about 11 at night [in the vicinity of the Likhachev factory] we entered an aerial combat zone. Deafening shell explosions. Fragments of shells poured down and the roof of the barge was perforated (the tarpaulins we had with us would secure the crates as far as Gorky). The doors were tightly closed. The weary crew of the barge hid behind the crates. A soldier with a gun, Ovchinnikov and I stood at the left door. We opened the door a little and watched what was going on through the gap. Our barge was brightly lit up, there were soldiers running along the bank; but the sky, oh!, the sky - it shone with thousands of bright stars, a huge array of illumination, the rays of searchlights shining far into the heavens, towards the silver gliding bombers of the enemy. Everything began to calm down...

After 10 days, we reached Gorky, where we were to take on board the cargo that had come from the Russian Museum. The barge was inspected, the perforated roof repaired. The inspection commission concluded - the last time the barge had been repaired was 1913 - and it couldn't give permission for such a heavy load... [later] Thanks to the measures taken, the crates and huge rollers of canvas ([Bryullov's Last Day of] Pompeii, [Bruni's The] Copper Serpent, etc.) from the Russian Museum were installed on the barge. A few days later we sailed off down a third river, the Volga.

On one of the piers, a barge from Moscow Zoo was attached to ours. It was both sad and somehow funny to look at its camel standing solitary in the middle of the vessel, surrounded by parrots, birds and animals. They were sailing to Kazan.

September 14. Five in the morning. A deafening blow, like an explosion, and we all jumped off the crates [on which we were sleeping]. It turned out that the barge had moored at the pier at Perm, that city where great trials would await us, trials that would call for great composure, endurance, energy and perseverance.

The city did not want to accept us, but the most surprising thing of all was that the director of the local art gallery N.N. Serebrennikov didn't want to take us in either, not wanting to close the museum and hand its premises over to us. The unloading of the barge was delayed, not through any fault of our own. Moscow had not arranged our arrival with the Perm authorities. While the question was being clarified, we persuaded Serebrennikov. He agreed to take the cargo only from the Tretyakov Gallery and the Russian Museum, without closing any halls to the public. The question about transport, and people, wasn't any easier. We went on living on the barge for a long time.

On September 28, with the thermometer at zero and the first snowfall alternating with light autumn rain, we began the unloading of the barge. First in order came the Russian Museum (the huge rollers of canvas, the crates).

The Perm Art Gallery is housed in a large cathedral, as well as in an 18th century summer church on the high left bank of the Kama. The road from the pier was difficult, uphill. We faced dirt, slush, interruptions in transport, and no vehicles at our disposal. Not wanting to interrupt the unloading of the barge, I resorted to going around the inns to find horses. Everywhere I got a refusal: no horses. Then, thanks to a girl who knew about the Tretyakov Gallery, and was amazed that it had come to Perm, I got two carts at the same place, and immediately set about transporting the smaller Tretyakov crates. Each trip, whether by cart or by vehicle, was accompanied by Ovchinnikov or myself. There were hours and the occasional day without rain, and such was the coincidence - it was exactly those days that we ended up transporting all our crates.

On October 10, the unloading of the barge finished. A thin layer of ice covered the Kama. The barge, with the cargo that the city hadn't taken in, headed on towards Solikamsk. A new disappointment awaited us. No cars or people to transport [Antokolsky's huge sculpture] “Ivan the Terrible". Five days it stood there, all on its own on the bank of the river, guarded by Ovchinnikov and an old man with a long red beard (he agreed to do guard duty for the bread that we gave him from our own rations). Finally, a vehicle turned up and 15 people, far from strong. Thanks to the great physical strength of the driver we managed to get the crate loaded and then the same driver helped us install the statue in the museum.

The crates with the works from the Tretyakov and the Russian Museum went into the unheated summer church, in its basement, and the [museum's] halls of Old Russian sculpture. The order from Moscow to close the Perm Gallery came later, on October 18. On October 22, we started moving them all over again, placing the crates and rollers in a better location - in the exhibition halls.

The issue of guarding the premises was an acute one. A round-the-clock duty was established at a set place, next to the radio set. The caretaker, an old woman of 73, or another woman who only had one leg, was the security guard. Often, during night inspections, the only thing you saw in the booth by the gate was her artificial leg - it was creepy.

We had requested and were given a home-army fire brigade of six. From then on, the security guard's inspection rounds, together with a fireman, were made every two hours, both through the halls of the gallery and in the courtyard, in all weather, around all the buildings. Life took on its routine, proceeding in a mood of great anxiety. We were living in a city whose surrounding area was caught up in an atmosphere of intense heroic [factory production] labour for the front. We worked from morning until late at night. It is difficult in this current, although quite extensive piece to list or describe everything that was done during the three and a half years that we were in Perm. It would require special attention, possibly further description.

But one thing must be emphasized, that our work alternated with, or was interrupted by various kinds of public duties, such as chopping firewood for the gallery, building a new railway line, washing and mending clothes for the Red Army soldiers, and work at the gardening allotments that were 25 kilometers outside Perm.

Such was our life. Not for a single day did we feel remote from the front. Our thoughts constantly returned to it. November. Unforgettable days. Late evening. I was on duty at the radio, listening in to Moscow...

Going to the Post Office was a kind of release. Like some kind of mirror, it reflected the life of the city. It was almost always crowded. At the Post Office you could observe the movement of our troops, too. In those days of anxiety for Moscow, it was full of beautiful and tall, slender and courageous Siberians who were on their way to the front. Faith, a deep faith in the invincibility of our Russian soldiers, in the invincibility of our Fatherland, gave us the strength to live.

November 1 1944, at the exact time indicated by the instructions determining the return from evacuation, the cargo of the Tretyakov Gallery reached Moscow.

 

Vera Fyodorovna Rumyantseva

From the memoirs of Vera Fyodorovna Rumyantseva, senior researcher at the Tretyakov Gallery, about the re-opening of the museum.[8]

И вот этот деньAnd now the day had come. May 17 1945, eight days after the declaration of peace, the Gallery opened its doors to the people. It was a day of great happiness, like when the blackout in Moscow was lifted, like the opening of the Hermitage in Leningrad would be a little later. The opening of the Gallery said everything: no more damned war, instead life in peace, the joyful enjoyment of the beauty created by the talent of the Russian people, the will for creative work. On that opening day, strangers came up to us - the staff who were on duty in the halls and those who were welcoming the first visitors - to hug and congratulate us on this shared day of our celebration.

On that first day, the Gallery admitted those with special invitations only. The next day, we opened for all comers, for everyone. A line of Muscovites stood through the night at the gates of Lavrushinsky Lane. The first in this line was a young pioneer, a schoolboy from the Krasnopresnensky district.

 

  1. Department of Mansucripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 194. Unit 35. Sheet 1.
  2. Gritsenko, M.N. “Records of the War Years. Notebook No. 10. March 15-July 5 1945”. Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 125. Unit 99. Sheet 133 reverse-134.
  3. Department of Mansucripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 8.11. Unit 72. Sheet 1-4.
  4. The painting had been vandalized in January 1913, the faces of Ivan and his son slashed with a knife.
  5. Ibid. Unit 68. Sheet 5-12.
  6. Ibid.
  7. M.B. Khrapchenko (1904-1986), President of the Committee of Arts, 1939-1948.
  8. Department of Mansucripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 8.II, Unit 71. Sheet 1.

Illustrations

Yury PIMENOV. War Bread. 1941
Yury PIMENOV. War Bread. 1941
Oil on canvas. 170 × 137 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery
The main entrance to the Tretyakov Gallery. Late 1930s
The main entrance to the Tretyakov Gallery. Late 1930s
Photograph
© Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
Certificate of Sofia Bityutskaya, chief custodian of the Tretyakov Gallery, accompanying the medal “For Valiant Labour in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945”. April 2 1946
Certificate of Sofia Bityutskaya, chief custodian of the Tretyakov Gallery, accompanying the medal “For Valiant Labour in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945”. April 2 1946
© Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
Ivan PAVLOV. Old Moscow. 1942
Ivan PAVLOV. Old Moscow. 1942
Colour linocut print on paper. 43 × 56 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery
Telegram from Maria Kolpakchi, senior researcher, in Perm to the director of the Tretyakov Gallery, Alexander Zamoshkin, at the Novosibirsk Branch. April 3 1944
Telegram from Maria Kolpakchi, senior researcher, in Perm to the director of the Tretyakov Gallery, Alexander Zamoshkin, at the Novosibirsk Branch. April 3 1944
The text reads: “Salaries for second half February not received. Circumstances difficult…”
© Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
Draft design of the roll for transportation of paintings developed by restorers of the Tretyakov Gallery October 1940
Draft design of the roll for transportation of paintings developed by restorers of the Tretyakov Gallery October 1940
© Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
Halls 6 and 49. The aftermath of the night bombing raid on August 12 1941
Halls 6 and 49. The aftermath of the night bombing raid on August 12 1941
Photograph
© Tretyakov Gallery, Photo and Images Department
Letter from the Administration of the Tretyakov Gallery to the Regional Trade Department, Novosibirsk. September 23 1942
Letter from the Administration of the Tretyakov Gallery to the Regional Trade Department, Novosibirsk. September 23 1942
© Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
Viktor KALININ. Autumn 1941. 1981
Viktor KALININ. Autumn 1941. 1981
Oil on canvas. 160 × 200 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery
Specification for roll No. 1 (crate No. 88) with evacuated paintings by Viktor Vasnetsov, Ilya Repin and Vasily Surikov. July 1941
Specification for roll No. 1 (crate No. 88) with evacuated paintings by Viktor Vasnetsov, Ilya Repin and Vasily Surikov. July 1941
© Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
Identity card of the director of the Tretyakov Gallery Alexander Zamoshkin. 1943
Identity card of the director of the Tretyakov Gallery Alexander Zamoshkin. 1943
© Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
Telegram from researcher Nadezhda Mneva to the Tretyakov Gallery, Novosibirsk Branch. September 1 1943
Telegram from researcher Nadezhda Mneva to the Tretyakov Gallery, Novosibirsk Branch. September 1 1943
© Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
Restoration project for the main staircase of the Tretyakov Gallery, destroyed in a night bombing attack on August 12 1941. The sculpture of Joseph Stalin in the background [1943]
Restoration project for the main staircase of the Tretyakov Gallery, destroyed in a night bombing attack on August 12 1941. The sculpture of Joseph Stalin in the background [1943]
© Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
Ivan SOKOLOV. Moscow Vegetable Gardens. 1944
Ivan SOKOLOV. Moscow Vegetable Gardens. 1944
Colour linocut print on paper. 53.5 × 41.7 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery
Unpacking the first box with paintings oin their return from evacuation
Unpacking the first box with paintings oin their return from evacuation
From left to right: Deputy Director for Economic Affairs Stepan Pronin, Head of the Department of Fine Arts Pyotr Sysoev, restorer Alexei Rybnikov, Head of the Restoration Department Yevgeny Kudryavtsev, Director of the Tretyakov Gallery Alexander Zamoshkin, Igor Grabar (holding the painting “Portrait of Anastasia Izmailova” by Alexei Antropov), Deputy Director for Research German Zhidkov, Head of the Department of Painting (18th-first half of the 19th century) Z. Zonova, Chief Custodian Yelena Silversvan, Senior Researcher Maria Kolpakchi, unknown woman. November 28 1944
Photograph
© Tretyakov Gallery, Photo and Images Department
A meal in the field [1942–1944]
A meal in the field [1942-1944]
Photograph
© Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
Weeding wheat in a field [1942–1944]
Weeding wheat in a field. [1942-1944]
Photograph
© Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
Yevgeny KUDRYAVTSEV. Siberian Steppe. 1945
Yevgeny KUDRYAVTSEV. Siberian Steppe. 1945
Paper and oil on plywood. 52.5 × 73 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery
Employees of the Novosibirsk branch of the Tretyakov Gallery. 1943
Employees of the Novosibirsk branch of the Tretyakov Gallery.
Sitting (left to right): Olga Lyasovskaya, Natalya Rudnitskaya-Morgunova, V. Sidorova, E. Zhuravleva, S. Goldshtein, S. Bityutskaya, M. Bush;
standing (left to right): P. Karshilova, N. Cherkasova, Z. Zonova, V. Rumyantseva, E. Karepina, E. Savelova, O. Zhivova, E. Kamenskaya
Photograph, 1943
© Tretyakov Gallery, Photo and Images Department
Novosibirsk Opera House Postcard, early 1950s
Novosibirsk Opera House Postcard, early 1950s
© Research Library of the Tretyakov Gallery
Memorandum from Grigory Yulianov, Director of Novosibirsk Opera House, to Milda Bush, Deputy Director of the Tretyakov Gallery Branch. July 22 1943
Memorandum from Grigory Yulianov, Director of Novosibirsk Opera House, to Milda Bush, Deputy Director of the Tretyakov Gallery Branch. July 22 1943
© Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
Exhibition of Russian realist art of the late 18th and 19th centuries, Novosibirsk Opera House, December 1942-April 1943
Exhibition of Russian realist art of the late 18th and 19th centuries, Novosibirsk Opera House, December 1942-April 1943
Photograph
© Tretyakov Gallery, Photo and Images Department
Crates with paintings of the Tretyakov Gallery at the Novosibirsk Opera House. Photograph, 1944
Crates with paintings of the Tretyakov Gallery at the Novosibirsk Opera House. Photograph, 1944
© Tretyakov Gallery, Photo and Images Department
Georgy YECHEISTOV. Wartime Still-life. Moscow. 1942
Georgy YECHEISTOV. Wartime Still-life. Moscow. 1942
Watercolour on paper. 54.5 × 40.3 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery
The Transfiguration Cathedral, later the building of the Perm Art Gallery. Early 20th century
The Transfiguration Cathedral, later the building of the Perm Art Gallery
It was here that works from the Tretyakov Gallery were stored during evacuation. Photograph, early 20th century
© Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
Travelling certificate of Maria Kolpakchi, who accompanied works from the Tretyakov Gallery to evacuation in Perm. 1941
Travelling certificate of Maria Kolpakchi, who accompanied works from the Tretyakov Gallery to evacuation in Perm. 1941
© Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery
Nathan ALTMAN. Perm. Landscape with a Train. 1942
Nathan ALTMAN. Perm. Landscape with a Train. 1942
Oil on paper mounted on cardboard. 24 × 32.5 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery
Valentin SEROV. Portrait of Maria Yermolova. 1905
Valentin SEROV. Portrait of Maria Yermolova. 1905
Oil on canvas. 224 × 120 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery
Preparations for the opening of the Tretyakov Gallery. The researchers I. Savina and M. Andreyeva cleaning frames. Photograph, late 1944-early 1945
Preparations for the opening of the Tretyakov Gallery. The researchers I. Savina and M. Andreyeva cleaning frames. Photograph, late 1944-early 1945
© Tretyakov Gallery, Photo and Images Department
Preparing the display in the Serov Hall: employees of the Tretyakov Gallery hanging Valentin Serov’s “Portrait of Maria Yermolova”. Photograph, Spring 1945
Preparing the display in the Serov Hall: employees of the Tretyakov Gallery hanging Valentin Serov’s “Portrait of Maria Yermolova”. Photograph, Spring 1945
© Tretyakov Gallery, Photo and Images Department
Boris IOGANSON. Fireworks. 1945
Boris IOGANSON. Fireworks. 1945
Sketch. Oil on canvas. 41 × 60 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery
Queues in front of the main entrance to the Tretyakov Gallery on May 17 1945, the day that it re-opened
Queues in front of the main entrance to the Tretyakov Gallery on May 17 1945, the day that it re-opened
Photograph
© Tretyakov Gallery, Photo and Images Department

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