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22 Jan, 2024 06:50

Post-Soviet country loses almost entire national art collection to fire

Abkhazia suffered “an irreplaceable loss,” the minister of culture has said
Post-Soviet country loses almost entire national art collection to fire

More than 4,000 paintings have perished in a devastating blaze that engulfed the Central Exhibition Hall in Abkhazia’s capital, Sukhum, on Sunday.

Emergency services in the South Caucasus republic received a fire alert at around 3:38am, and 11 crews were dispatched immediately, according to local media. Despite the efforts, the fire was only contained by 7am, by which time most of the paintings were gone.

The acting minister of culture, Dinara Smyr, said that virtually “everything has been destroyed.”

“The second floor housed the collections of the National Art Gallery, with over 4000 works. Among them were up to 300 works by Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze,” Smyr told Apsnypress, calling it “an irreplaceable loss” to the nation's culture. 

The National Art Gallery's director, Suram Sakania, said the damage to Abkhazian heritage was “immeasurable.”

“I walk around crying. It's terrible,” he lamented. Sakania added that, according to the firefighters, the fire started on the roof and was likely caused by an electrical fault.

The gallery, which first opened its doors in 1964, is renowned for regularly hosting local and international artists. It was home to artwork by Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze, a significant figure in Abkhazian art.

Since its establishment, the Central Exhibition Hall has been an essential cultural site of the nation. Many prominent artists, including M. Eshba, O. Brendel, I. Tsomaya, and V. Ivanba, donated their works to the gallery, which initially displayed 100 paintings and 20 sculptures.

Ezekiel Lazarevich Fishkov – an art connoisseur and Sukhum physician – who played a crucial role in the gallery’s foundation, donated part of his home and 60 paintings, including pieces by Russian artists who visited Abkhazia in the early 20th century.

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