A Ukrainian Art Dealer Is on Trial in France for Stealing Several Artworks, Including a $1.6 Million Painting by Paul Signac

The Signac was recovered during the raid of a Kyiv home in 2019.

Ukrainian National Police head Sergey Knyazev [R] during a presentation of Paul Signac's Port de la Rochelle (1915) at the ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine in 2019. Photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images.

A Ukrainian art dealer is standing trial in France this week after being accused of stealing a prized Paul Signac painting and other artworks from museums and auction houses throughout the country. 

In May of 2018, Signac’s 1915 painting Le Port de La Rochelle mysteriously disappeared from its wall at the Musée de Beaux-Arts in Nancy, France. An investigation later revealed that three men removed the painting with a box cutter, then rolled the canvas up and exited the venue with it tucked under a coat.

The painting wasn’t recovered until a year later when police in Kyiv raided the home of a murder suspect, who revealed that the piece was tucked away in a cupboard. The home’s unidentified owner later told authorities that another Ukrainian man, art dealer Vadym Huzhva, was behind the theft of the artwork, which is estimated to be worth €1.5 million ($1.6 million). 

Paul Signac, Le Port de La Rochelle (1915). Photo: Leemage/Corbis via Getty Images.

At the time, Huzhva was serving a prison sentence in Austrian jail after being convicted of stealing a Renoir painting in Vienna in 2018. He was extradited to France for prosecution upon being released in 2020. The Signac painting, meanwhile, was returned to the Musée de Beaux-Arts. 

Huzhva, for his part, has maintained his innocence in the case, claiming that he has been framed. 

“I don’t see how I have anything to do with this,” he said in court this week, according to the Associated French Press. “You have no proof of your allegations.”

“He’s not on the surveillance film,” the art dealer’s lawyer, Samira Boudiba, added in an interview with Le Parisien. “All you can see are three people who cannot be identified. All the video shows is the time the painting was stolen, but that’s all.” 

“He’s being blamed for the theft of a painting in France, which is strange,” the lawyer went on. “Without getting into the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, he says it’s a conspiracy.”

In court, Huzhva also faces charges related to the thefts of four other artworks in France in 2017 and 2018, including pieces by Eugene Boudin, Giorgio De Chirico, Eugene Galien-Laloue, and Auguste Renoir. The trial is expected to conclude today.

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