Russian museums race to show stolen art

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The Independent Online
FROM HELEN WOMACK

in Moscow

A treasure trove of paintings lost to the world for the past half-century will be revealed today when Moscow's Pushkin Museum opens a show of some of the best "trophy art" which Stalin confiscated from the defeated Nazis in 1945.

But this art-lovers' feast risks being overshadowed by bad feeling between the cities of Moscow and St Petersburg and between Russia and Germany.

For decades Moscow denied it was holding the art but suddenly a race is on between Russia's two leading museums to gain credit for their glasnost. The show at the Pushkin was announced only after the rival Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg gave diplomats and journalists a preview of an exhibition of trophy art it plans to open to the public next month. Museum workers in St Petersburg think the Pushkin is trying to steal their thunder.

And Germany, which has been conducting discreet negotiations with Russia on the mutual exchange of art seized during the war, has had its nose put out of joint, being presented with a fait accompli in the form of invitations to the exhibition instead of being consulted on the future of the collection.

So rushed have the Pushkin's preparations been that the museum has not had time to print a proper catalogue. The invitation to the opening speaks coyly of a display of "works of European art from the 14th to 19th centuries" and only the small print mentions they were "removed to the territory of the Soviet Union from Germany as a result of the Second World War".

But according to an unofficial list, the exhibition will include works by Cranach, Breughel, Tintoretto, Goya, Van Gogh, Renoir and Monet. Some of them came from a state collection Hitler was building up; others belonged to private German citizens, often Jewish.

Since Russia's Culture Minister, Yevgeny Sidorov, came clean about the existence of trophy art three years ago, a few works have emerged from the dark storerooms in which they were kept. Pictures which used to belong to the city of Bremen have been displayed and Dutch diplomats have been allowed to examine the Koenigs Collection of Old Master drawings originally stolen from the Netherlands by occupying German forces. But the latest exhibition should be the most significant.

It includes the Trojan gold excavated by the 19th- century German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, which Russia now admits it is holding and has promised to show at the Pushkin Museum next year.

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