The creator of the portrait Vladislav Izmaylovich depicted Lenin (the leader of Russian revolution) to hide the work of Ilya Galkin (the portrait of the last Russian tsar Nicholas II) and keep it for the descendants.
1917 is the year of Russian revolution. The history of Bolshevik Russia started then. The imperial past became harmful and should have been destroyed. However, Vladislav Izmaylovich (an artist who was teaching in Peter’s commercial school which later was turned into labor school #23) had another opinion. He decided to save the portrait of Nicholas II though his freedom and safety were at stake.
The work of his colleague Ilya Galkin used to be the main decoration of the school assembly hall. Vladislav understood that this work of art would never survive the new political regime. Therefore, he covered the depiction of Nicholas II with gouache. The painting was kept in one of the classrooms. In 1924, the artist got an order to paint a posthumous portrait of Lenin. It took Vladislav a few months to complete the painting. He used the backside of Nicholas II portrait.
The picture was put in the school assembly hall at the same place where it used to be. It was kept in the same frame; they only took away scepter and orb from it. The portrait was at the same place for 95 years.
Did the artist want us to know about his sacrifice? We will never know. He continued to work at the same school and used to pass the portrait quite a few times. Anyway, he died in 1959 without revealing the mystery.
In 2013 we were celebrating 300 years anniversary of the Romanov dynasty in Russia. At that time, the head of school decided to restore the picture. In 1970s, students tore a piece from it. The torn part of the canvas was kept in the school museum up to 2013. Then it was given to Russian museum to be restored. Art experts saw that through black paint on the backside of the portrait they could make out a shoe while Lenin was depicted wearing boots. They used infrared light and found the portrait of Nicholas II, which was considered to have been lost.
The difficult task to restore the portrait was commissioned to Stieglitz academy. The problem was that they had to preserve both portraits. It took restorers 3 years to complete the work.
The portrait of the tsar was painted in 1896, the year of his coronation. To preserve it better Vladislav did not even ground the canvas from the other side.
The painting will be on display at the 5th St. Petersburg International Cultural Forum that takes place in Stieglitz academy 2-3 December 2016. They have invented a special frame for this 2-side canvas. After the forum, it will be going back to school. They are still considering where to put it.
Russian restoration school is famous all over the world. This is just one example of their work. Come and visit St Petersburg art museums to see with your own eyes how restores keep and preserve works of art.