Historic Soviet drawings stolen in £1.5m raid

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The Independent Online

Russia has suffered its second major art theft in as many weeks, with the plundering of hundreds of drawings worth at least £1.5m from the State Archive of Literature and Art in Moscow.

The drawings were the work of the late Yakov Chernikhov, a leading artist and architect of the Soviet era who specialised in "constructivist" socialist design. The thief or thieves emptied hundreds of folders containing drawings, replacing them with worthless "dummy" sketches to delay the moment when the robbery would be discovered. It is estimated that about 1,500 of the 2,000 drawings in the collection were stolen; 274 have been recovered.

The robbery comes a week after the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg revealed that 221 items worth £2.7m had been stolen from its repository over a period of six years. Three people, including the husband and son of one of the museum's late curators, have been arrested in connection with the crime.

The Hermitage incident shocked Russia's cultural elite, triggering calls for a radical overview of the way Moscow looks after and catalogues its cultural treasures. The authorities first realised something was wrong on 22 June when Christie's of London sold nine of the missing Chernikhov drawings at auction. Andrei Chernikhov, the late artist's grandson and the president of a foundation dedicated to publicising his work, learnt of the sale and had it reversed.

Yakov Chernikhov, who was born in Ukraine in 1889 to a poor Jewish family, studied at the college of art in Odessa before moving to St Petersburg in 1914 where he attended the architecture faculty of the Imperial College of Arts.

He enjoyed his heyday in the Twenties and Thirties, designing factories, housing developments, and schools in the "constructivist" style that tried to give art a social purpose, in this case building Communism.