Romanov jewels to be shown in Wilmington Two years of planning yields art coup for city of 75,000

October 02, 1997|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - A glittering exhibit of the riches of the Russian royal family, the Romanovs, is scheduled to open next year in Wilmington, Del.

Promoters are promising no repeat of Washington's experience with Russian art, in which an exhibition of Romanov jewels and art objects at the Corcoran Gallery of Art this spring triggered a dispute that resulted in a blockade of the moving van taking the display to its next venue.

"We are not planning a scandal as part of our publicity campaign," Mikhail B. Piotrovski, director of Russia's State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, said dryly.

But more than two years' worth of planning has apparently obtained an art coup for a city of fewer than 75,000 people.

To open Aug. 1

Piotrovski and exhibition promoter James E. Broughton said at a news conference in Washington that the exhibition, "Nicholas & Alexandra: The Last Imperial Family of Tsarist Russia," would open Aug. 1, 1998, at the new Delaware Grand Exhibition Hall in Wilmington.

The show will include more than 400 art objects, costumes, personal effects and religious objects belonging to the last imperial family of Russia. Among these are a gilded state carriage Alexandra rode to her coronation, gifts that the couple exchanged, military uniforms worn by Nicholas, and letters the two wrote to each other in English - the preferred language between them.

A teddy bear belonging to their son, Alexei, will also be exhibited.

The items are the trappings of tragedy. Indecisive and estranged from the people they ruled, Nicholas and Alexandra were swept away by the wave of the Russian Revolution in 1917, which ended three centuries of Romanov rule. With their five children, they were murdered by Bolshevik assassins, including former members of the palace guard.

'Diamonds and philosophy'

Piotrovski, a diminutive, intense man who heads one of the most famous museums in the world - as his father did before him for 26 years - said the show would combine what he called "diamonds and philosophy."

"There are a lot of misunderstandings [in America]," Piotrovski said, "because we in Russia don't really know what happened."

Russian Ambassador Yuli M. Vorontsov, who attended the news conference, commented that this was "a problem of monarchies, then and also now, being so far from their people."

"Sometimes the people remind them, as we have seen not so long ago," he said in apparent reference to the British royal family and the death of Princess Diana.

Broughton - a former administrative director for the city of Memphis, Tenn., who formed his own art exhibition company, Broughton International, in 1994 - was sensitive to the needs of the Hermitage. Like other Russian cultural institutions, the Hermitage, created by Catherine the Great, is suffering from years of decay and neglect under Communist rule and is trying to modernize its centuries-old infrastructure.

The State Hermitage Museum will receive a flat fee plus a percentage of admission receipts and revenue from catalog and gift sales, he said. Before the exhibition even opens, the museum will receive more than $200,000 to help restore many of the objects that will be shown.

Broughton would not disclose the insurance provisions. He said that Broughton International would arrange for the crating of the objects and shipping by air. A team of six to eight Russian experts will be on hand to help install the exhibition.

The tour is contemplated to include two more U.S. cities after Wilmington. Broughton said he was "in negotiation" with several cities, but he would not identify them.

"This is a tremendous opportunity to use this institution, the Hermitage, as a great ambassador for Russia," he said.

Referring to the jewel-show imbroglio, Broughton said he was also confident that his arrangements would be honored.

Pub Date: 10/02/97

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