Museum staff help to steal exhibits from the Hermitage

The disappearance of 221 exhibits from the Russian jeweler’s art section in the State Hermitage was recently detected when the results of routine spring checks came through. The museum’s press service informed that the disappearance of exhibits was detected as a result of systematic checks carried out in spring 2006. The management of the museum reported the theft to the police once active search measures had begun.

“Most of the missing exhibits belonged to the stored collection of the Russian section of the museum and mainly consist of jewelry and enamels,” the Hermitage press service informed Interfax. Their value is estimated at 130 million rubles, (approximately 5 million dollars).

The curator of most of these exhibits suddenly passed away at his workplace at the very beginning of the checks, leading to a rumor spread by the media that the loss was connected to the death of the collection’s curator.

In response, the State Hermitage asked for hasty conclusions not to be drawn. The museum’s press service told Interfax that unfortunately it sometimes happens that Hermitage curators continue to work until they die, but for now there is no sense in linking this particular case to the disappearance of the exhibits.

“However, unfortunately, there is no chance that the theft took place without the participation of museum staff. This is evidence of serious moral problems, of a neglect of duties and responsibility, of a deep fault in the storage system, built on the assumption of the museum staff’s innocence,” added the press service.

This is the second incident in the last two months where a disappearance of exhibits at a Petersburg museum has been detected during checks. In June 2006, in a branch of the Russian Museum , five items from an 18th Century hunting set went missing. This incident turned out to be due to neglect on the part of museum workers. The exhibits were soon found on the museum premises and returned to their place in the exhibition.

In connection with the disappearance, Russian cultural authorities are investigating the state of accounts and safe-keeping of the Hermitage collection. “The commission will proceed to study the factual state of the museum’s affairs on Wednesday,” the head of the management Boris Boyarskov informed Interfax.

He noted that control over the safe-keeping of museum funds was one of the priority tasks of everyday work at the department of Russian cultural authorities. “Unfortunately, this is not the first instance of loss of items and documents of significant historical and cultural value from museums and archives,” stated Boyarskov.

“These facts are evidence of the unfavorable state of affairs concerning the protection of national cultural property. It is time to make serious conclusions about these cases,’ he emphasized. Checks in the Hermitage will be carried out in collaboration with the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography.

Translated by Leila Wilmers

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Author`s name Alex Naumov