Art Palace restoring works by avant-garde artist Petre Otskheli

Petre Otskheli's sketch for sets for the play Joy Street, 1932. Photo: Art Palace museum., 29 Jun 2017 - 16:45, Tbilisi,Georgia

Dozens of works by Georgia’s prominent 20th century avant-garde artist Petre Otskheli will be restored and preserved before going on display to celebrate an anniversary of his birth this year.

Recognised as a founder of Georgian theatre design art and shot by the Soviet regime for his openly modernist art, 30 works of Otskheli are being repaired by experts at Tbilisi’s Art Palace museum.

Set to mark 110 years since the birth of the pioneering painter, the project includes restoration of sketches and drawings created by Otskheli during his student years.

Portrait of a Chinese woman by Otskheli, dated c. 1925. Photo: Art Palace museum.

Launched earlier this month, the restoration work has already sprung surprises for experts working on drawings.

Art Palace director Giorgi Kalandia told Iberia TV program hosts this week the professionals found previously unknown works by the artist during the restoration process.

The restoration team found sketches on the reverse side of known drawings while detaching them from cardboard bases the pieces were glued to.

Kalandia said the surprise discovery indicated Otskheli often had to use both sides of sketch paper due to material hardships.

The restoration project signifies the ongoing focus of the Art Palace museum on Otskheli’s life and career.

Over 320 works of the Georgian painter are featured in vaults of the venue, the largest collection of Otskheli worldwide.

Otskheli's 1936 sketch for Winged Painter. Photo: Art Palace museum.

Fewer number of the artist’s works can be found at Tbilisi’s Kote Marjanishvili State Drama Theatre as well as Alexey Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum in Moscow and and State Academic Maly Theatre of Russia, along with private collections.

A gallery of Otskheli’s life and work also heralded the addition of Art Palace to the Google Arts and Culture online platform last year, making the museum the first Georgian venue to be featured on the world’s largest online art database.

Born in western Georgian city Kutaisi in 1907, Otskheli was able to pursue artistic education being supported by his wealthy family.

Moving to Moscow in 1914, the teenage prodigy studied at a French school before returning to Georgia in 1920 to graduate from the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts.

Despite economic hardship that followed for the family in the country, Otskheli embarked on a prolific creative career in theatre design.

Collaborating with famous Georgian theatre director Kote Marjanishvili, the young prodigy created designs for dozens of productions at theatres in Georgia and abroad.

His works included set and costume designs for stagings based on plays including Othello by William Shakespeare and The Master Builder by Henrik Ibsen.

Petre Otskheli (top) and director Kote Marjanishvili (bottom) photographed with theatre representatives. Photo: Art Palace museum.

However, his individuality also meant constant surveillance from the cultural censorship of the Soviet authorities.

In 1936, he was sheltered from political persecution by Sergo Amaglobeli, then director of the Moscow Maly Theatre, in Russia’s capital. However a year later, both Otskheli and Amaglobeli were arrested by the state security agency NKVD.

Questioned by NKVD officers, Otskheli was executed on trumped-up charges of "belonging to a counter-revolutionary organisation” in 1937, at the age of 30.

While the artist’s grave is unknown to this date, the significance of his work for the Georgian avant-garde movement and establishment of the professional theatre design in the country is widely recognised.