Britta Kaiser-Schuster: ‘Museums’ Dialogue’ is the Diplomacy of Masterpieces


Director of the German-Russian Museums’ Dialogue Britta Kaiser-Schuster to participate in EAWF

Britta Kaiser-Schuster, the Director of the German-Russian Museums’ Dialogue (DRMD), undertakes to unite the efforts of Russian and German experts in the search, identification, restoration, and return of valuable cultural artefacts lost during the Second World War to the museums of the two countries. With the participation of DRMD, Germany recovered items, which until now were considered missing, while the book archive of Russia has recently received seven 18th century books and the Polenov’s painting ‘The White Willows at Pond’. International cooperation in preserving the historical and cultural heritage has become one of the topics on the agenda of the Eurasian Women’s Forum, to which the German scholar and writer Britta Kaiser-Schuster is invited.

After being awarded a doctoral degree Britta Kaiser-Schuster worked from 1993 to 1995 as scientific research assistant, scientific curator and exhibition curator at various museums in Berlin. From 1999 she worked in the Cultural Foundation of the German States as a Director for Fine Arts of 20–21st centuries.

From 2000 to 2007 Ms Kaiser-Schuster advanced the Moeller Scholarship Programme for Russian art historians together with the Likhachev Foundation, acted as an Adviser for German-Russian Library Dialogue. This Dialogue was founded in 2009 under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, the German Cultural Foundation (FRG) and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (FRG), a permanent professional platform that covers a wide range of issues of cooperation between German and Russian libraries. Particular attention is given to the use of modern digital technologies in the restoration of book collection of historical, scientific and cultural significance.

In May 2018 at a meeting of the German-Russian Libraries’ Dialogue, the Director of the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States Britta Kaiser-Schuster participated in the ceremony when books taken from the Soviet Union to Germany during the World War II in 1941–1945 have been returned to the Scientific Library of the Novgorod State Joint Museum-Reserve.

Seven 18th century books came back to Novgorod, the oldest of which, Mineya Sluzhebnaya dates back to 1713.

Over the past 10 years, Britta Kaiser-Schuster has been heading the German-Russian Museums’ Dialogue (DRMD), the mission of which is to assist museums in studying the value and volume of losses of both countries during and post-war.

‘Loss + Return’ was the name of one of the first initiatives of DRMD founded in 2005. The occasion was the 50th anniversary of the second major act of the restitution to the Soviet Union of more than 1.5 million works of art by the German Democratic Republic between 1955 and 1958. The action began with the transfer of prominent works by Durer, Jan van Eyck, as well as the Sistine Madonna by Raphael. This gave momentum to the restoration of war-torn museums and the entire East German museum landscape.

Today, DRMD is the initiator of two major research projects. The first is on the loss of German museums during the war and post-war periods in the context of the transfer of cultural valuables to the Soviet Union.

German and Russian experts jointly conduct the research, and also bring the results of their work to the public through press and exhibitions.

A perfect example of such work is the cooperation between the Friedenstein Castle Museum at Gotha and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, which in 2016 not only resulted in the first major exhibition of Cranach’s works in Russia, but also allowed for the first complete collection of Cranach from Gotha to be exhibited in full for the first time after World War II. After that, in 2017, the Pushkin Museum brought masterpieces of French fine arts to Gotha.

DRMD places special emphasis on the historical reconstruction of cultural losses in Russia. In this regard, the organization turned to the history of Russian museums during the Second World War. Notably, the history of the collections of Novgorod and Pskov, as well as the four imperial palaces of St. Petersburg: Tsarskoye Selo, Peterhof, Gatchina and Pavlovsk, from 1941 to the early 1950s has been closely examined. As a result, it was possible to trace the path of some works of art back to the Soviet Union, as well as their subsequent destiny.

In 2017, Taganrog received back the Polenov’s painting ‘The White Willows at Pond’, as well as 73 out of the more than 4.5 thousand works of art that the city lost during the German occupation. They were returned from the so-called Allied central collecting points.

The history of even one painting or book represents the history of cooperation between museum workers and arts historians of the two countries, which the programme of a separate EAWF site is dedicated to.

Tina Stankevich, Eurasian Women's Community Information Agency

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