Storming of the Winter Palace

20 Apr — 31 Dec 2017 at The State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia

9 MAY 2017
Storming of the Winter Palace. Courtesy of The State Hermitage Museum
Storming of the Winter Palace. Courtesy of The State Hermitage Museum

The display features photographs of Feodor Golovin and Dmitry Tolstoy, and also of the 20 April 1917 edition of the newspaper Birzhevye novosti, as well as the Rules for the Guidance of Visitors to the Hermitage.

From the moment of its foundation, the Hermitage was subordinated to the Ministry of the Imperial Court, which was in charge of museums, the imperial theatres and other cultural institutions. On 8 March 1917, a decree of the new Provisional Government appointed Feodor Alexandrovich Golovin – one of the founders of the Cadet (Constitutional Democrat) Party and former Chairman of the short-lived second State Duma – Commissar of the establishments of the former ministry. After taking up this office, on 10 March Golovin issued his first orders, calling on officials “to continue to perform their duties and occupations in the established manner, remembering that now, when the fate of the nation is in its own hands, they are all no longer serving particular persons but the whole Russian nation and the motherland.”

The situation in the city was far from calm and military patrols were assigned to guard the artistic treasures in the Hermitage. The museum’s director, Count Dmitry Ivanovich Tolstoy, explained to the officers and men what their task was, but it proved impossible to restore the previous discipline. The soldiers “behaved in a very off-hand manner, smoking, spitting on the floor, playing cards at times…”

On 13 March there was a meeting of the General Assembly of the Hermitage. There, firstly, it was unanimously decided to resume scholarly activities in the museum, despite everything. Secondly, a majority of those present voted not to open the Hermitage to the public “since particular groups of people may use the premises to hold gatherings and political meetings.” Moreover, “the possibility of damage to the treasures kept in the Hermitage cannot be excluded.” One further argument in favour of the closure of the museum was the fact that “the city has not yet been purged of the dregs of society who have been released from the prisons together with political detainees.”

On 4 April, a meeting of attendants and keepers (storozhi, as the members of the security detachment took to calling themselves after February) took place. The gathering passed a resolution on service, wages and the election of workers to vacant posts. The first paragraph stated that the chief duty of the staff was to preserve what had been “entrusted [to them] by the nation, the state, and to serve to the benefit of national art for the sake of posterity”. Commissar Golovin and Director Tolstoy acknowledged that the rules laid out in the resolution should be born in mind and observed by all members of staff.

During the February Revolution, although academic work practically did not cease for a single day, the Hermitage was closed to the public. In April, when the situation in the city had stabilized, the museum again began accepting visitors, opening the entrance through the portico with the Atlantes. This was reported in the newspaper Birzhevye novosti on 20 April.

This small exhibition represents one element of the forthcoming exhibition “The Winter Palace and Hermitage in 1917” due to open on 25 October 2017.