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Restoration of Celebrated Parquet Floors

The famous artistically patterned parquet floors of the State Hermitage, created to designs by prominent 19th century architects, have now reached a considerable age.Time, heavy wear and the poor state of the underlying sub-floors have led to destruction of the parquet. Complete protection is not provided even by modern “water-based” wear-resistant coatings that are used in the halls by a special museum service. Consequently the “Hermitage Floors” programme was instituted for the restoration of the parquet floors of the museum. Until the year 2000, all the work was carried out by craftsmen of the Hermitage’s own Special Scientific Restoration Workshops.

In 2000 the Petersburg Restoration Company was invited to work on the programme. The firm restored the parquet (360 sq m) in the Raphael Loggias using sanding machines and materials that made it possible to achieve a perfectly even and smooth surface. The floors in the halls of Dutch painting (300 sq m), the Large Church of the Winter Palace (431 sq m) and the Hermitage Theatre (130 sq m) were also restored.

One further innovation was the development of a “technical dossier” for the floors in each room indicating all relevant data (surface area of the floor, materials, description of the design, state of preservation, work carried out, etc). The introduction of this documentation will help to improve the servicing of the Hermitage parquets.

In 2001 a total area of 2,826 square metres of decorative parquet was restored, almost twice as much as in 2000. A number of contractors were employed at once to work on the floors: the Special Scientific Restoration Workshops of the State Hermitage, and the companies Parquet-Hall and Resstroi. Work was carried out in the Blackamoor and Malachite Rooms, the Ministerial Corridor and the rooms housing the permanent display of British art in the Winter Palace; in the Knights’ Room, Spanish and Italian Cabinets in the New Hermitage; and also in parts of other museum buildings.

Depending on the age of the parquet, the design and the state of the sub-floor, different restoration techniques were used and different species of wood: ebony, rosewood, mahogany, palisander, amaranth, maple, sandalwood and boxwood, among others. Particular attention was paid to the refurbishment of the supporting sub-floor (panels made of pine boards laid on the joists), as its condition to a large extent determines that of the parquet above. After restoration the parquet was covered with six coats of water-based varnish that does not give off any substances harmful to people or to the museum exhibits.

In 2002 the parquet floor in the Room of the Cavalier Guard (the Greuze Room) was reconstructed. This room was decorated by Alexander Briullov after the Winter Palace fire of 1837. The decorative painting of the ceiling, the carving on the doors and the ornamental parquet were all produced to his designs.

Time and heavy wear did not spare the parquet. It was badly worn and had numerous cracks and missing parts, and the sub-floor was destroyed to a large extent. The thickness of the strips of decorative parquet came to no more than 0.5-2 mm, when the thickness of new parquet elements was 9 mm. Bearing in mind all these circumstances, it was decided not to restore the parquet, but instead to recreate a new floor which would be set down on a new foundation. This decision was approved by the Committee of the State Inspectorate for Preservation of Monuments.

Recreation of such a large area of decorative parquet as the Greuze Room (103 sq m) had not been undertaken in the Hermitage for the past 120 years. The museum announced a competition which was won by a long-time partner of the Hermitage, the Moscow-based company Parquet-Hall-Centre-L.

Before work began, the design of the parquet was copied onto tracing paper and a photographic record was made of elements of the entire floor. Special boards and two layers of plywood were laid to make a sub-floor as a base for the parquet. Rosewood, wenge, ebony, kempas, walnut, pear, guaycan, palisander and maple were used to recreate the original design. The parquet pieces were glued in place without the use of fasteners, using the marquetry technique. As a result the thickness of the useful layer of the parquet elements increased to 15 mm. Then the parquet was coated with varnish.

The repair work on the parquet floors in 2003 can be roughly divided into three basic categories: recreation, restoration and removal of the lacquer. The decision was taken to recreate the parquet in the following rooms: the Anteroom (394 sq m), the Pantry next to the Commandant’s Staircase (40 sq m) – both done by the Viktoriya company – and the first-floor landing of the Commandant’s Staircase (77 sq m). Restoration of the parquet was carried out in the Nicholas (1,101 sq m) and Concert (390 sq m) Halls by the Design Studio Abris company, as well as in the hollow area of the Eastern Gallery (186 sq m) – by the Viktoriya company.

Work of the third kind was done in the Raphael Loggias (360 sq m) by Parquet-Hall-Centre-L. Here two years earlier the parquet had been restored, and now it only needed lacquer to be reapplied using a technique that was new to the Hermitage. This involved replacing the damaged and dirty layer of the lacquer without increasing its overall thickness or changing its transparency.

In the Nicholas and Concert Halls restoration work was made difficult by the scale of the task and the condition of the parquet itself. Thirty percent of the sub-floor and parquet had to be completely replaced and this meant finding various species of precious wood such as ebony, lemon tree, several varieties of mahogany and boxwood.

In the Anteroom the damage was severe: planks of the sub-floor and parquet panels were partly destroyed and the parquet elements were worn down to the thickness of paper, while in some places the surface pattern was missing entirely and the lacquer coating had cracked. As a result it was necessary to recreate the parquet while respecting the design, the colours and species of wood, and also to replace the foundation of the floor.

In 2004 work was carried out to restore the floors of the Rotunda and the Dark Corridor of the Winter Palace. These parquet floors have a complicated geometric pattern in straight lines made from exotic species of wood and decorated with an engraving, so that it was especially difficult for restorers and required a great deal of hand-made decorative carving. The work was carried out by specialists of the company Parquet-Hall-Centre-L who took three months to restore the decorative parquet and do engraving in the missing parts, to reinforce the sub-floor and coat the parquet with a protective lacquer (648 sq m) Technical supervision of the restoration was performed by employees of the Department of the Chief Mechanic of the State Hermitage (O.V. Tolpygin, director).

April 2006 saw the completion of the restoration of parquet floors in the rooms of French 15th- to 18th-century art. The floors in these rooms were made in the mid-19th century at Ye.A. Miller’s factory in St Petersburg to designs by Alexander Briullov. The difficulty of restoration lay in the fact that these compositions of precious woods (palisander, walnut, sandalwood and others) had been worn down to the thickness of a veneer sheet and in places lost altogether. There were later inserts of other kinds of timber. The subfloor had disintegrated to a significant degree. Restoration work involved replacement of the parquet elements no longer suitable for use. The selection of timber was made on the basis of expert examination or archive documentation. After restoration the floors were covered with special hard-wearing lacquer using a method approved by the Committee of the State Inspectorate for the Preservation of Monuments (KGIOP). The main difficulty was sanding away the accumulated layers of old lacquer. Great skill was required at this stage to avoid damage to the thin parquet pattern.

Restoration was carried out over an area of 780 square metres by the Parquet Hall company under the direction of the Hermitage’s Department of the Chief Mechanic (headed by Oleg Tolpygin) in accordance with a project agreed with the KGIOP.