Russia shows paintings seized from Germany

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ST PETERSBURG (AP) - Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings by the world's most famous artists - including works feared lost for years - will go on display in Russia next spring.

Nearly 80 paintings, seized from Germany by Soviet troops after the Second World War, will be displayed at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg in the first of a series of exhibits of captured works. The existence of the paintings, by Degas, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Daumier, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir and Van Gogh, remained a secret until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. 'Many of these pictures have been sought for more than 50 years, or were believed to have either been destroyed or lost,' Vladimir Matveyev, deputy director of the Hermitage, said yesterday.

The question of whether they should be returned to Germany or restitution made is a touchy one and 'should be decided by the appropriate authorities,' Mr Matveyev said. Only a few people knew about the works until a brief item about the exhibition appeared last week in the St Petersburg News. Although the paintings have been underground for nearly 50 years, Mr Matveyev insists they are in good condition. 'They were only figuratively 'underground' '.

The Hermitage has not identified many of the paintings, but said the March show will include the Degas masterpiece Place de la Concorde, which is reproduced in art books with the annotation, 'Missing. Believed destroyed.' Also to be displayed is The White House at Night, which Van Gogh finished six weeks before his death in 1890.

'An exhibition of this sort still raises delicate questions,' Mikhail Pyotrovsky, the Hermitage's director, told the New York Times during a recent visit to drum up support for the Hermitage Friendship Society. 'We believe the main thing nowadays is to show what we have, plainly and openly.'