After a morning spent at the Russian State Museum, we met up again with Timofey from the Russian Consulate in Edinburgh.
After a short walk round part of the centre, past the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood, built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, and across the Field of Mars, we met up with Asya, a friend of Timofey.
Asya is a graduate of the St Petersburg State Art and Industry Academy.
Thank you to Asya for being our guide round the academy building that afternoon. The academy was established in 1876, and the original building is still very much a working art college. We had a fascinating insight into the life of the students, and the techniques they are taught.
St Petersburg has so many historic buildings that I suppose it’s inevitable that they need to have the expertise to maintain and restore artefacts. We saw students creating classical sculptures, ceramics, stained glass, as well as fine art. In the restoration department one student had been working for six months already scraping layers of paint off a Russian icon to reveal an original painting, centuries old. Another large painting of Lenin was being cleaned – on the other side, a painting of Tsar Nicolas II had been revealed. It hadn’t yet been decided which portrait was the most worthy of preserving.
We clambered about this old building, which had it been at home would have been closed down years before on health and safety grounds.
At the top of winding rickety stairs, or down in the depths of the basement, we would come across little workshops which were a hive of creativity.
Jane would have loved to have seen this art college at work. She loved intricate art work, but whether even she would have had the patience for what was clearly needed to study here, I simply don’t know.
This was what our visit to Russia, was all about.
In the morning we visited the Russian Museum and spent time exploring the phenomenal art galleries. The developments in Russian art map the wider historical transformations this country has experienced. From romantic war art to the portraits of the Tsars, to Soviet propaganda art, followed by paintings protesting against the realities of the communist system.
Today I realised what it was about Russia that had captured Jane’s imagination. It is a country overflowing with history – with tragedy and endurance – and it is through art that you, as a visitor and outsider, can catch a small glimpse of the Russian soul.
Thank you again to all the students who made us so welcome at the academy and who were understandably proud to show off their work.