Letter: No gift intended
Monday 18 December 1995
Sir: I am writing on behalf of my mother, granddaughter of Mikhail Petrovich Botkin, mentioned in your article of 15 December ("Master forger's legacy goes on sale"). Your article states that M. P. Botkin bequeathed "his magnificent collection of medieval and Renaissance art" to the Russian Museum in 1917. This is not the case. M. P. Botkin died in 1914 and his wife had the collection packed and handed "for safe keeping" to the cellars of the Hermitage.
The Byzantine enamels were placed in my grandmother's safe and, after the October uprising in 1917, the enamels and the collection were confiscated by the Soviet authorities. My mother, who is still alive, remembers many items from the collection, as she spent the war years in her grandparents' house in St Petersburg.
Some items from the Botkin collection were sold in the Thirties and appeared in Paris. The most well known piece is probably the "Barbarossa Armlet", which found its way into the Hirsch collection and was sold at Sotheby's in 1978 to the Germanische Museum in Nuremberg.
We are writing in the hope that this collection will remain intact and be put on display in Russia, and not split up and sold piecemeal, which could be its fate in these difficult times in Russia.
John W. Sowels
Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire
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