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Record NG29

Archive reference number NG29

Helmut Ruhemann Papers

Date 1930-1979

The papers cover all aspects of Ruhemann's work as a conservator. They contain administrative files, draft publications, lectures, reports, correspondence, photographs, postcards and publications.

Record type Series
Administrative history

Helmut Ruhemann (1891-1973) was born in Germany and had intended to become a painter. He studied at the Academies of Art at Karlsruhe and Munich and spent two years in Paris working under Maurice Denis. In 1929, having worked privately as a restorer since 1921, Ruhemann became Chief Restorer of the Berlin State Galleries. In 1933, with Hitler in power, Ruhemann was invited by Philip Hendy to visit England. He decided to emigrate as soon as possible. Ruhemann worked as a freelance restorer in England including work for the National Gallery from 1934. During World War II he was one of two restorers evacuated along with the Gallery's pictures, thus becoming one of the first full-time conservators employed by the Gallery. From 1946 to 1953 Ruhemann divided his time between his posts as Consultant Restorer to the National Gallery and Lecturer-in-Charge of the Technology Department of the Courtauld Institute. He continued to work for the National Gallery until 1972.

Helmut Ruhemann was a leading figure in the modernisation of the restoration profession. Prior to the 20th Century the methods of the picture restorer had been seen as dark secrets passed only between a select few. Ruhemann's view was that there should be no secrets and he displayed a positive desire to share his knowledge. He was a pioneer in the use of scientific analysis as a tool for the picture restorer and was an early advocate of removing all discoloured varnishes which might conceal the original work of the artist.

For autobiography see Chapter 1 of The Cleaning of Paintings (Library reference NK1025 Ruhemann).

Custodial history

The provenance of the papers is unknown. It is probable that they were transferred to the National Gallery Archive from the Gallery's Conservation Department.

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