- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

Mikhail B. Piotrovski recently addressed an electrified group of reporters and critics at the press preview for the National Museum of Women in the Art's "An Imperial Collection: Women Artists From the State Hermitage Museum." After all, it was the dapper, mustachioed Mr. Piotrovski who had signed off on the landmark $1 million international loan show.
"It was three years in the making, so it must be a good exhibit," he quipped.
"We're an open and active museum and work with many museums in Europe and America," Mr. Piotrovski said. "The Hermitage has a partnership with New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Las Vegas' Guggenheim Hermitage Museum. Projects with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City are in the works."
He noted that there are many stories about the three main artists of the "Imperial Collection" exhibit.
Scotswoman Christina Robertson is one of the painters. "We reintroduced her to her native Scotland," he said. "And rumors about the beautiful and talented French painter Marie Vigee-Lebrun ran rife for years."
"It's also not generally known," he continued, "that the young French sculptor Marie-Anne Collot and she was unique as a female sculptor in France at the time produced a satisfactory head for the equestrian Peter the Great statue, while Etienne-Maurice Falconet, her teacher, did not," the Hermitage director said.
Mr. Piotrovski announced that the major Hermitage exhibition celebrating the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg's founding opens May 27 probably to the "cast of thousands" he would want. A museum director who travels constantly, he expects both friends and professional colleagues for the opening.
"We'll display a photography loan show from the Museum of Modern Art, and Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain, will lend the best portrait of Peter the Great," the director said.
He informed the women's museum audience that the Hermitage is expanding and that its new storage facility will be ready for the celebration.
It was natural that Mr. Piotrovski, 58, would become the museum's director. His father, archaeologist Maurice P. Piotrovski, headed the Hermitage for 26 years. "I spent my childhood in the Hermitage," the younger Mr. Piotrovski remembered.
A specialist in Islamic art, he attended the universities of St. Petersburg and Cairo. "I chose Arabic studies because they were the most difficult and exotic and researched Arabic manuscripts for most of my life," the director said. He's a member of the Russian Academy of Science and has published several books on ancient Arabia. He leads archaeological expeditions to Yemen for two months every year.
Despite his scholarly interests, Mr. Piotrovski is a successful museum director and fund-raiser. He persuaded IBM to set up a Web site for the Hermitage that he calls "the best in the world." The director is proud of the gift shop he set up four years ago.
After the press preview of "An Imperial Collection," he was off to lecture at the Smithsonian Institution's Feb. 12 Hermitage Day.
All in a day's work for the peripatetic museum director.

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