Row brewing over Russian art exhibition in London

A row seems to be on the verge of starting over a Russian art exhibition in London.

The London Royal Academy of Arts is to host an exhibition of Russian and French masterpieces in January next year, but concerns are growing that the art will be impounded by the courts if anyone brings an case claiming that the Russian government owes them money. Unless they receive explicit guarantees that their paintings will not be seized, a number of Russian museums are threatening to refuse to let their paintings travel to England.

Russian artwork has previously been seized in Switzerland as security against debts, although the paintings were eventually released and handed back to the Russian state.

The British government is – so it says – doing all it can to ensure that the arts aren’t seized. The government has even gone so far as to draft a new law which will specifically prevent works of art loaned to British museums from being seized. The only problem is that the law won’t come into force until shortly after the paintings arrive in London.

Which leaves a brief window of opportunity for anyone who feels that the Russian state owes them money to launch a court case.

Boris Berezovsky, are you reading?

To make matters worse, Vladimir Putin is to visit Britain in January where he is to attend the opening of the exhibition with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Presumably, they also plan to announce that – spy scandals aside – Russia and Britain are really the best of friends. Instead, they might end up in yet another bitter row, sniping at each other over a few pretty old paintings.

If you’re an optimist, by the way, the exhibition – From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870-1925 -opens at the Royal Academy, London, on January 26.

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