Nevyansk icon painting heritage
In 1869 Yekaterinburg intellectuals and regional history enthusiasts combined their efforts to create the Urals’ Natural Sciences Connoisseurs Society (UNSCS). People of various estates and professions promoted this undertaking: teacher J. 0. Clare, physician A. A. Mislavsky, writer D. N. Mamin-Sibiriak, merchants, factory owners, craftsmen and the clergy in particular. The next year a scientific library and a museum were founded as the subsidiaries of UNSCS.
The SRSM icon-painting collection is remarkable not only for the works of local origin, but also for the icons imported from other parts of the country — first of all from Moscow, Volga Region and Northern Russia. Some of them, presented here as the «Displaced icons», enables us to trace the main streams of Russian settlers, who were bringing the artistic traditions of their native regions to the Urals.
In the early 20th century the newly-formed sections of Ethnography and Art in the UNSCS museum were united and reorganized into the Religious Art Antiquities section. The same period of time was marked by the foundation all over Russia of numerous societies and committees, aimed to study the Russian church antiquities. Yekaterinburg committee at the local Eparchial Board, though a short-lived one (1911—1918), contrived to publish the archives containing valuable information on the religious history of the Urals Region.
A great many works of art were destroyed or taken away from the Urals and from Russia in the years of Revolution and Civil war. The UNSCS activists, eager to preserve the cultural values, created in 1918 the Nationalized Property Committee, whose endeavors resulted, for instance, in rescuing of the unique house-chapel sacristy from the palace of wealthy Yekaterinburg merchants Lev Rastorguev and Peter Kharitonov.
Now in SRSM and EMFA collections there are over 40 icons, removed from this palace (most of them are attributed to Bogatyrevs’ workshop — the leading one in Nevyansk). The religious painting appeared again in the museum expositions only in the 1960s. As for the dissenters’ icon-painting, its importance was recognized even later, when SRSM scientific expeditions to remote places of the region came across a number of stylistically homogeneous works, grouped together under the name of Nevyansk icons (the majority of them was found in Nevyansk district inhabited by the descendants of «Old Believers»).
The dissenters’ icons of the 18th — 19th centuries — especially those signed by the famous Nevyansk painters, (Bogatyrevs, Chemobrovins, Romanovs, Anisimovs, Vakhrushevs etc.), e. g. large temple icons «St Nicholas of Mozhaisk» or «The Virgin with the Child», — make up the most valuable part of SRSM collection. The out-of-the-way trend in the Urals’ icon-painting tradition is represented by icons combining painting with cut-in cast crucifixes and multi-leaved folders.
In the 1970s one more masterpiece entered the SRSM collection — a monumental icon «The Nativity of Christ», painted in Bodatyrevs’ workshop to the order of gold-mine owner Stephan Balandin. The next decade brought about the discovery of Filatov icon-painters dynasty, who worked in the 19th century at Utkinsk factory. Filatovs family archives contain over 400 original icon dra- wings of the 18th — 20th centuries; now they are kept in SRSM and EMFA collections.
The widely celebrated thousandth anniversary of Christian Russia (1988) stimulated the exhibition activities throughout the country. Within the next five years a vast restoration program was carried out, which made it possible to hold in Yekaterinburg a large-scale exhibition «The Urals’ icon-painting» (1993). At present over 100 newly-restored Nevyansk icons are found in the permanent exposition of SRSM.