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PARIS – Russia’s war against Ukraine has thrown a cloud of uncertainty over the future of one of its largest collections of artworks and the fledgling cultural diplomacy between Paris and Moscow.
The Morozov Collection – which includes 200 masterpieces including works by Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh and Cézanne owned by Russian museums and oligarchs – will be on display in Paris until Sunday. It is the first time the collection has left Russia and the exhibition has a record number of visitors.
However, as the war in Ukraine continues and diplomatic tensions between Russia and the West increase, it is unclear what will happen to these paintings and, more broadly, to the Franco-Russian cultural dialogue.
For the opening of the exhibition in September 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for enabling. “There is a clear sign here that Russia is a major European power. We have common projects, despite everything that separates us,” said Macron called back then.
Macron and Putin even wrote the foreword to the exhibition catalogue. Putin wrote that the exhibition “strengthened the traditionally special ties between our countries.”
The Morozov exhibition is not the first attempt to strengthen Franco-Russian diplomacy through stronger cultural ties. When Macron and Putin first met in person in 2017, they first launched an art exhibition about Russian Tsar Peter I at the Palace of Versailles and the so-called Trianon Dialogue initiative to intensify the cultural and economic relations between Paris and Moscow. The initiative is currently running on hold.
Six months after the opening of the Morosow exhibition, economic sanctions against Russia and Russian oligarchs in France have led to questions about whether the exhibition should go on or whether the government could even grab the paintings.
The Art of Diplomacy
However, a French official stressed that the Morozov collection could not be confiscated and that there was “a false debate” about it.
French law prohibits the confiscation of works of art loaned by foreign cultural institutions for exhibition in France. the government confirmed that paintings belonging to museums and foundations and shown in the Morozov exhibition fall under this protection.
But this does not apply to paintings belonging to Russian private individuals. The collection includes, for example, one of Piotr Kontchalovski’s four self-portraits, owned by Petr Olegovich Aven, “one of Vladimir Putin’s closest oligarchs. Aven is on the EU sanctions list.
But French authorities usually give the painting’s owner guarantees that it will be protected, said Julien Anfruns, an arts lawyer and a former official at France’s culture ministry.
France’s culture ministry declined to comment on the issue, noting it was “premature” to comment.
Any action by Paris against the Morozov paintings would undermine trust between art institutions around the world, Anfruns warned. “It would be very damaging, especially since we are already in a situation where private collectors and public institutions are already reluctant to lend to museums abroad,” he said.
Catherine Morin-Desailly, an MP for the French Senate’s culture committee, said the government must take a clear stance on the issue and hoped art would be left out of the conflict. “The procedure must be established at a high level. The culture minister must make a clear statement on these issues,” she said.
“An art collection is not like an oligarch’s yacht. There is the value of the work of art that surpasses everything else.”
While the collection is safe from government sanctions, it’s still unclear how and when the artwork could safely return to Moscow.
A spokesman for the Louis Vuitton Foundation, which organized the exhibition, said Wednesday that the paintings “will be taken down on Sunday evening” and that “everything will go on as normal.”
They declined to explain whether the collection would be kept in the foundation’s vault, returned to the Russian embassy in Paris, or sent back to Russia immediately.
Earlier this month, Russian Ambassador to France Alexei Mechkov told reporters that the Russian authorities were working on the repatriation of the collection, admitting that “problems have arisen in the current situation with all the drastic measures that have been taken, such as the suspension of flights between Russia and France”.
A spokesman for the Russian embassy declined to comment, but noted that the Louis Vuitton Foundation has been in contact with Russian museums since the start of the exhibition to organize the return of the collection to Russia.
https://www.politico.eu/article/russia-morozov-collection-exhibition-paris-ukraine-war-france-emmanuel-macron-vladimir-putin-oligarchs/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication Russian exhibition in Paris faces uncertain future – POLITICO