Dispute over sale of Nureyev collection

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MORE THAN a year after the death of Rudolf Nureyev, the dancer's personal collection of art is still barred from being auctioned because of disagreements over the interpretation of his will.

Gouzel Nureyeva, a niece of the dancer who died of Aids on 6 January last year, said this week that trustees of one of the two foundations set up by Nureyev to manage his estate had wanted to sell works of art, despite a clause in his will asking that his pictures, sculptures and other works of art be kept together in a museum dedicated to his memory. Jean-March Delas, Ms Nureyeva's Paris lawyer, confirmed the existence of this clause.

Ms Nureyeva, who left Russia for France eight years ago, said she and her mother, Roza - Nureyev's sister - were angered by suggestions that the family was blocking a planned auction by Christie's because relatives sought his fortune. 'We want the foundation to respect his wishes, which were that all the pictures and other objets d'art go to a museum to be created in Paris,' she said.

Among the administrators of the estate she named was a Zurich lawyer, Janette Thurnheer. Reached by telephone, Mrs Thurnheer said the niece and sister were the only Nureyev family members opposing the auction of his belongings.

A nephew, Mrs Thurnheer said, was in favour of the trustees' desire to auction off his art collection. Mrs Thurnheer explained, however, that the nephew could not be asked for confirmation 'because he travels constantly between Berlin and Paris and does not have a phone'.

After Nureyev died, a first view of his art collection, valued at some pounds 4m, sent a ripple of excitement through the art world. It contains more than 1,000 items, from male erotica to Russian antiques and oriental carpets. Before his death, he set up two foundations to run his fortune, to help young dancers and for scientific and medical research.

Ms Nureyeva said the trustees of his estate had refused to contribute to the traditional Russian Orthodox wake a year after his death. 'Instead, it was paid for by an Italian friend, Gloria Venturi, one of Rudolf's few sincere friends.'

Ms Nureyeva also said lawyers managing the fortune had refused to pay for a bodyguard to protect him from ghouls during his last days in a Paris hospital, saying it was 'a waste of money'. 'Even at 11pm at night, people were getting into his room to ask for his autograph,' Ms Nureyeva said.