After months of tense diplomatic wrangling, London’s Royal Academy has finally unveiled a mammoth exhibition of paintings from Russia. Some of the works – including the imposing “Dance 2” by Henri Matisse – became political pawns when it was revealed they were taken after the 1917 revolution – and the descendants of the owners wanted compensation.
The UK rushed through legislation to prevent their seizure – but it was a cliffhanger, says curator Norman Rosenthal: “A lot of political interpretation was given, but in fact it was a straightforward legal problem the Russians had with the exhibition. They’d had problems in Switzerland, in Italy in recent years, also in France and they didn’t want to have these problems repeated, they didn’t want claims being made against these paintings”
The descendants of the two Russian collectors were in London to highlight their case:
“We just want to get some compensation for them showing our pictures – and charging money for it” said Pierre Konovaloff, the great-grandson of collector Ivan Morosov.
The exhibition charts the relationship between French and Russian art over a period of profound social and political upheaval – but also comes at a time of strained diplomatic and cultural relations between London and Moscow.
They have been at odds since the 2006 murder of dissident Alexander Litvinenko, while earlier this month a row over the British Council prompted London to accuse Moscow of “Cold War tactics”