Despite Calls for Seizure, the Blockbuster Morozov Collection Is Heading Home to Russia From the Fondation Louis Vuitton
The show was part of an effort by Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron to promote closer cultural ties.
Amid the international campaign to punish Russia over its bloody invasion of Ukraine, speculation has swirled around the fate of a trove of priceless paintings belonging to Russia’s top museums, on loan in France for a blockbuster exhibition. Now, that fate has become a bit clearer: The artworks are set to head back to Russia “through the safest route,” according to a representative of the country’s embassy in Paris, Bloomberg reports.
The more than 200 prized paintings in question include works by Bonnard, Cézanne, Gauguin, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, and Van Gogh, and were on view at the Fondation Louis Vuitton for the show “The Morozov Collection: Icons of Modern Art.” On loan from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, with supplementary works by Russian artists on loan from the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, many of these works had rarely, if ever, traveled outside of Russia.
The show was personally signed off on by Vladimir Putin, and its opening in September was a diplomatic as well as a cultural event, with French president Emmanuel Macron making an appearance. According to Reuters, it was part of a cultural diplomacy initiative launched by Putin and Macron called the “Trianon Dialogue,” aiming to boost cultural ties between the two nations, begun in 2017. More than one million people had visited the Fondation Louis Vuitton in the subsequent months.
Set to close on February 22, it had been extended until April 3 due to its popularity—but soon after the invasion of Ukraine in late February, questions began to arise about what would happen to Russian art on loan outside the country. Some called on France to seize the collection.
However, French law is firmly against such an action. Olivier de Baecque, a lawyer who specializes in art, told Le Figaro newspaper this week that according to the arrêté d’insaisissabilité law passed August 10, 1994, “the French State cannot sequester these paintings, pastels, and sculptures because they are the responsibility of foreign public institutions.”
Meanwhile, Jean-Paul Claverie, an advisor to Fondation Louis Vuitton owner Bernard Arnault, confirmed that the museum would “ensure, as agreed, [the artworks’] return to their museum.” Claverie added that if conditions “for them to travel safely turn out to be insufficient, we will wait.”
Last month, Russian envoy Alexei Mechkov had said that in light of “drastic measures” taken to punish Russian as its attack on Ukraine escalated, including the cancellation of flights between France and Russia, “problems [had] emerged” with regard to the repatriation of the Morozov Collection. Now that the Fondation Louis Vuitton exhibition has officially ended, however, Alexander Makogonov of the Russian embassy in Paris told Bloomberg that “all indications are rather positive” (though Makogonov also stressed that the embassy itself is not involved in the logistics).
Exactly how the artworks will travel back to Russia remains unclear, especially as some European Union countries are calling for even tougher sanctions against Russia following reports of potential war crimes in a Kyiv suburb. France’s foreign ministry announced it would expel some Russian diplomats from their posts, but did not say how many or who. The Fondation Louis Vuitton did not respond to inquiries by press time.
The Morozov Collection features at least one work, Pyotr Konchalovski—Self-portrait, from the personal collection of Petr Aven, a Russian oligarch who was sanctioned by the European Union earlier this year. Aven resigned as a trustee of the Royal Academy in London in early March, while the Tate severed ties with him as well as Viktor Vekselberg, another oligarch whose yacht was seized by the United States government in the port of Palma de Mallorca in Spain this morning, as part of the “seize and freeze” initiative.
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