A row in Russia

May 16 2013

Image of A row in Russia

Picture: Portrait of Ivan Morozov, a major collector of avant-garde French art, by Valentin Serov 

The Voice of Russia reports on an attempt to break up the Hermitage collection in St Petersburg:

Two of Russia's greatest art galleries are at loggerheads after the 91-year-old director of Moscow's Pushkin Museum asked President Vladimir Putin during his live phone-in to recreate the Western art museum in Moscow. The Hermitage would lose some of its finest treasures to Moscow if it happened.

President Putin on Tuesday asked the government to draw up by June 15 a report on the viability of the request. The State Museum of New Western Art in Moscow housed the Impressionist and early modern art collected by renowned Russian art collectors Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov [above] in the late Tsarist era. It was closed on Stalin's orders in 1948 in a drive to play up the importance of Soviet art.

Its collection was divided between the Pushkin Art Museum in Moscow and the world-famous Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, where the pictures can be seen to this day. The redoubtable director of the Pushkin Museum, Irina Antonova, 91, last week personally asked President Vladimir Putin during his annual phone-in with Russians to consider re-opening the museum in Moscow with its original collection.

However the idea did not in the least impress the Hermitage Museum, which under the plan could see some of its most prized Matisse, Degas and Picasso pictures transferred back to Moscow. "This new attempt to break up the Hermitage is a crime against the stability of the whole museum landscape in Russia, whose unity and riches have been preserved with such difficulty," said Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky, quoted by the government Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily.

Antonova however launched a stout defence of her position saying the recreation of the museum was a question of "historical fairness". "The state destroyed this museum. The state has the chance to revive it. This is my opinion," she said.

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