Helmut Ruhemann Papers

Scope and Content

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.

Administrative / Biographical History

Helmut Moritz 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).


The papers were arranged and catalogued into seven sub-series. It is not known whether these sub-series were how the papers were received in the archive or whether this order was imposed by a previous archivist. The sub-series have been maintained in the present arrangement.

Access Information


Other Finding Aids

The most recent and complete list is held on CALM ALM. A paper list is available from the National Gallery Archive.

Archivist's Note

Catalogue revised and transferred to CALM by Alan Crookham, Mar 2008.

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the reader to determine the exact copyright status of a work.

Appraisal Information

Circular papers regarding social events, blank application forms from professional societies such as the International Institute for Conservation of Historical and Artistic Works and empty envelopes have been destroyed. The old reference NG29/18 was destroyed as it contained a blank piece of paper.

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.


No accruals are expected.

Related Material

NG16/46/1 Registry files: Cleaning

NG16/49/5 Registry files: Conservation

NG16/199/1 Registry files: Scientific Steering Committee

NG30/1947/11-12, 16-17, 22, 27 Photographs: Cleaning and conservation

NGA34 Papers associated with Sir Philip Hendy and Helmut Ruhemann

Hamilton Kerr Institute, Cambridge, Helmut Ruhemann archive