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Henry M. Robert

A museum has opened in Lutsk, some of its exhibits having survived even a spell in... morgue

The Nobles’ House welcomes visitors into spacious rooms housing a renewed exhibition
26 December, 2013 - 10:54

Art gallery of Lutsk, which later became a museum, was always seen as a jewel of the city, similarly to its medieval castle, catacombs under the old Catholic church, early 14th century Church of Intercession, or the Old City as a whole. However, its unique collection of rare paintings, which has no parallel in the whole of Ukraine, had been almost destroyed on several occasions. Thus, the fantastic restoration of a monument of national importance, the Nobles’ House, built in 1789, and now housing the art museum, was an admirable effort. It was also a reassurance, securing a comfortable existence for the building for decades to come, and giving Volyn and Ukraine as a whole an excellent exhibition displaying a collection of artworks capable of turning Lutsk into a tourist pilgrimage site.

Paintings from the rich collection of the Radziwills, a famous princely magnate family, which they gathered over centuries, have become the core of the museum’s exhibition. One of princely castles, nicknamed the Ukrainian Versailles for its beauty, still stands in the town of Olyka. The museum’s holdings are just random survivors of the collection, because many items were simply burned or otherwise destroyed by the Soviet military, who, after the so-called liberation of Western Ukraine, were quartered in the castle and kindled fires in stoves with pages of manuscripts or fired (!) at paintings. Nobody knows what treasures were taken to Russia, but the plunder filled entire vehicles. Even when the art gallery was already functioning in Lutsk, people from Kyiv, Lviv, and St. Petersburg kept coming there and taking treasures, and only honesty and heroism, now legendary, displayed by museum staff allowed Volyn to keep works that are now the pride of its art museum and equal to any other collection. Paintings went through a time when they were taken out of a building in Lutsk Castle and placed in... the former city hospital morgue, where humidity was almost 100 percent and temperatures low... It was a separate page in the history of the museum, when, thanks to the efforts of many people, particularly art historian Mykola Chereniuk, the paintings have been snatched from their cold grave...

Restoration of the Nobles’ House took almost two years. The building retained its original look, but its walls and vaults are now supported by a kind of metal arch. This technology has been developed by company Lutsksantekhmontazh No. 536, which carried out the construction work and is the region’s recognized expert in historic buildings revival. For three years and four months, the head of Volyn Regional Museum’s restoration workshop Anatolii Kvasiuk (known to our readers as the restorer of the Kholm icon of the Mother of God) conducted miniature “surgeries” on the collection’s paintings. After all, they saw no restoration for these decades, but time and adverse preservation conditions were still affecting them throughout that period. The master worked with 174 paintings! All of them are now exhibited in six rooms, set in chic frames, which were generously funded by the regional budget. The Nobles’ House’s restoration and setting up of this new exhibition took almost 3,000,000 hryvnias in public funding. It was a matter of honor for the head of the Volyn Oblast State Administration Borys Klimchuk. Volyn has been experiencing a museum boom in recent years. Funding from the state and regional budgets enabled restoration of family estates once belonging to Viacheslav Lypynsky in Zaturtsi and Igor Stravinsky in Ustyluh, both now housing memorial museums.

Art museum in old Lutsk Castle will also be a unique tourist attraction: even when bits of plaster dropped from its ceiling, the museum received thousands of visitors. Jose de Ribera, Frans Snyders, Alessandro Magnasco, Nicolas Poussin, Jacques Courtois... Typically, Ukraine has only isolated works by these artists. With Ribera, Lutsk is the only place to have even one work of the painter... At all times and under all conditions, the art gallery, and later the art museum, was the cultural center of Lutsk. On seeing these spacious, expanded rooms and the renewed exhibition, now displaying many previously unknown masterpieces even as many more are still in storage, one realizes that the museum will have no shortage of visitors. The museum’s head Zoia Navrotska told us that its guides speak both English and Polish.

By Natalia MALIMON, The Day, Lutsk
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