“Reversible Picture" Found in RGS Funds

Штаб-квартира Русского географического общества в Санкт-Петербурге. Фото : Андрей Стрельников

A two-sided painting by an unknown artist was discovered in the storerooms of the Russian Geographical Society Museum in St. Petersburg. On its front is a portrait of the President of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Honorary President of the Geographical Society, Vladimir Leontyevich Komarov, painted in color pastel. On the back there is a portrait of a military man, also painted in pastel, but this time in the grisaille technique.

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Портрет-перевёртыш из запасников музея РГО. Фото: Пресс-служба РГО
Портрет-перевёртыш из запасников музея РГО. Фото: Пресс-служба РГО

The portrait of Vladimir Komarov had been hanging for many years, waiting for the restoration. The second image was discovered only after the frame had been removed, and was a big surprise for the museum staff. Probably, this portrait of a military man is associated with the hospital, which was located at the Russian Geographical Society and the gymnasium in the neighborhood.

In the frame, the size of the double-sided portrait is 75 x 89.2 cm. The picture is made on thin textured gray paper. No data on the origin of the painting has been preserved. Currently, its attribution is underway. The author’s signature, located on the left, along the lower edge of the picture, should help determine the origin of the picture. Only capital letters are clearly visible in it, probably the initials of the artist - "В.И."(rus.). In addition, the portrait has a date - 1944. In the fund of the Society there are several more pastel works, but much smaller and not of such high artistic quality.

“We did not find in the archives the delivery-acceptance act - no documentation that would shed light on the history of this portrait,” said the head of the Museum of the Russian Geographical Society, Sergey Belykh. “However, we will try to find an artist and restore the names of the men depicted. We hope to restore the artist’s surname and figure out the military man`s name through him. Judging by the signature, Komarov’s portrait was painted in 1944, these were hungry years. The food was hard to come by, and art supplies were especially scarce. That’s why artists often used their previous works."

The head of the RGS museum said that he hopes to hang the painting, after restoration, so that both portraits are visible to visitors