Finland Seizes $46 Million in Art Returning to Russia; Paris Mayor Calls for 'Freezing' Morozov Collection

  • April 07, 2022 11:49

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In the Morozov Collection, Vincent van Gogh, The Sea at Saintes Maries, 1888. Pushkin Museum, Moscow.

Finland seized artwork en route to Russia in accordance with sanctions imposed by the European Union over Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine. The haul of paintings and sculptures is valued at around 42 million euros ($46 million), the agency said.

The artwork was on loan from Russia to exhibitions at museums and galleries in Japan and Italy. Finnish Customs detained the three shipments bound for Russia at the Vaalimaa border crossing point on April 1 and 2. 

“It is important that the enforcement of sanctions works effectively. The enforcement of sanctions is part of our normal operations and we always direct our controls based on risks," said Sami Rakshit, Director of Finnish Customs’ Enforcement Department, in a statement. Individuals transporting the art are under investigation. 

Titian, Young Woman with Feather Hat (ca. 1536). Collection of the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

While the exact number of seized artworks and other details were not immediately available, Russia’s Culture Ministry told Russian news agency Moskva that artwork had been loaned to Italy from St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum and Tsarskoye Selo state museum and Moscow’s State Tretyakov Gallery, according to Reuters.

Hermitage loans had included Antonio Canova’s Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss (1787–93) to the Gallerie d’Italia in Milan; Titian’s Young Woman with Feather Hat (ca. 1536) and Giovanni Cariani’s Giovane donna con vecchio di profilo (1515–16) to Milan's Palazzo Reale; and Young Woman (1909) by Pablo Picasso to Rome’s Fondazione Fendi.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, with its sold-out Fabergé show, is among other European museums now dealing with current art loans from Russia.

Chief among Russia's museum loans is one of the world's priciest art caches, the lauded Morozov Collection, in Paris for the blockbuster exhibition at the Louis Vuitton Foundation. The "priceless" artworks by the likes of Van Gogh, Picasso, Cezanne and more, from the State Hermitage Museum, the Pushkin State Museum and State Tretyakov Gallery, were scheduled to leave for Russia after the show closed on April 3.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, who is a low-polling candidate in this month's presidential election, has urged France to hold onto the Morozov Collection, reportedly saying in an interview with Olyrix on Thursday, "...when it comes to works of art belonging to the Russian state or to the oligarchs, the world of culture must also show solidarity with the Ukrainian people. For example, I am in favor of France freezing the Morozov collection currently on display on French soil at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, and property of Russian national museums."

The Louis Vuitton Foundation has stated that "as with all major loans of artworks, the collection is covered by an exemption from seizure clause."

In the Morozov Collection, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Yvette Guilbert Singing “Linger Longer Loo”, 1884. Pushkin Museum, Moscow.

Around 200 Morozov Collection works in the Putin-approved exhibition also include at least one work, Pyotr Konchalovski—Self-portrait, on loan from Petr Aven, a Russian oligarch who was sanctioned by the European Union.

With sanctions mounting due to more atrocities coming to light as Russia moves positions in Ukraine, the timeline for the loaned Morozov art's return is unclear. Russia's envoy Alexei Mechkov noted weeks ago that "problems have emerged" for travel logistics, although the embassy recently stated the returns are on track, according to Bloomberg

The New York Times notes, "As the war in Ukraine continues, museums across Europe are having to grapple with a range of questions — logistical, moral and diplomatic — about how they should deal with their Russian counterparts."

In early March, LVMH, the world's largest luxury retail group headed by Louis Vuitton Foundation's Bernard Arnault, said it would "termporarily" close some 120 stores in Russia.

Tags: european art

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