The State Hermitage Museum has unique collections of items of furniture art which include more than 10 000 exhibits. The collection includes objects made in different historical periods, in different countries and in different styles: Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Classicism, Historicism, and Art Nouveau.
Formation of the Hermitage School of Furniture Restoration is inextricably linked with the historical events that took place in Russia in the 20th century. The Great Patriotic War and the siege of Leningrad caused irreparable damage to the Hermitage furniture collections, most of the surviving works of furniture art were in need of immediate restoration. The scope of work was so great that the furniture makers were forced to limit themselves to the minimum restoration activities aimed at stopping the destruction of the exhibits and making them exhibition-ready. Therefore, uniform restoration techniques dominated and the restoration became more of a production process. In spite of this, today’s generation of conservators thinks of those masters with gratitude and respect. They managed to save many monuments of furniture art from destruction and, most importantly, to preserve and pass on to the next generation of masters traditions, techniques, skills and technologies in woodworking.
The post-war recovery period lasted nearly 20 years. The need for change led, in 1971, to the organization of Special Scientific Restoration Workshops (SSRW) headed by Yu.V. Moiseyev were organised at the State Hermitage Museum upon the initiative of Boris B. Piotrovsky. The best masters who had vast experience of restoration acquired in the reconstruction of historical and cultural monuments which were destroyed during World War II were invited to work at the workshops. The team of carpenters-cabinetmakers was guided by N.G. Kiselyov, and then by V.V. Kashcheyev, who is considered the founder of the Hermitage School of Furniture Restoration. Over these years, the experts restored more than 1000 exhibits, among which the most important are: a mechanical desk made by David Roentgen (art restorer V.V. Kashcheyev), a mechanical desk made by Heinrich Gambs (art restorer V.V. Kashcheyev), a clock with portable organ (art restorer V.A. Gradov); SSRW masters participated in the restoration of the Grand coronation carriage (art restorers V.V. Kashcheyev, A.V. Kashcheyev, V.A. Gradov), in re-creation of the Throne place (carvings, art restorer A.V. Kashcheyev), in restoration of the Great Imperial Throne (art restorer A.V. Kashcheyev).
The Laboratory for Scientific Restoration of Furniture (LSRF) was established in the State Hermitage Museum in July 2007. It is composed of expert furniture makers who had been working for years with the Hermitage collection at SSRW. Such skilled art restorers as V.V. Kashcheyev (working in the State Hermitage Museum since 1962), V.A. Gradov (working in the State Hermitage Museum since 1978), A.V. Kashcheyev (working in the State Hermitage Museum since 1982), D.V. Machulko (working in the State Hermitage Museum since 1992), G.N. Nikolayenkov (working in the State Hermitage Museum since 1989) and A. Romanov (working in the State Hermitage Museum since 1996) are among them.
The Laboratory establishment allowed scientists to scientifically summarise the accumulated experience and to document much of what is considered to be the intangible cultural heritage: traditions in woodworking, methods of work using disappearing hand carpentry tools, technologies of different ways of decorating furniture: wood carving, wood inlay with ivory, mother-of-pearl, metals, intarsia and marquetry technologies, Certosa mosaic, Eger technique, etc.
Restoration of furniture has its own peculiarities and is considered one of the most difficult and problematic due to the instability of wood as the monument base.
Shrinkage and swelling during the change in temperature and humidity conditions, the risk of insect infestation, fading when exposed to sunlight – these are just some of the factors that the Laboratory members have to take into account when selecting and developing restoration methods. Currently, the most urgent issues are related to preventive conservation of works of decorative and applied art made of wood, the study of the conditions of storage of exhibits in the museum and the development of techniques for restoration taking into account these conditions, the study of international experience of conservation and restoration of furniture and its adaptation to the museum environment after restoration.