Russia said on Thursday that a vast collection of artworks by Van Gogh, Cézanne, Matisse and Monet – the so-called Morozov collection – had been returned safely after the exhibition was a hit in Paris.
Nonetheless, the French government said two key paintings were withheld due to Western sanctions against Russia for its military operation in Ukraine.
The Morozov Collection attracted nearly 1.25 million visitors, a record, to the prestigious Louis Vuitton Foundation in Bois de Boulogne between September 22 and April 3.
The show was so successful that it was extended from its original end date of February 22, two days before Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine.
“The Morozov collection is back in Russia. At the moment, the exhibits have already been delivered to state museums,” Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova said on the Telegram messaging app.
It took nearly 20 days to get the artwork back, Lyubimova said, praising a “great team effort.” The entire collection would now be exhibited this summer at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.
The director of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg – one of the galleries that loaned paintings for the exhibition – said the works had been returned in good condition.
“The first examination by the restorers showed that the state of conservation of the works is good,” Mikhail Piotrovsky said in a statement released by the Hermitage.
He also praised “the effectiveness of the system of guarantees and immunities developed by Russian museums in recent decades” which has enabled the restitution of works.
The collection, built up by the brothers Mikhail and Ivan Morozov in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, had never been seen in its entirety outside of Russia.
In April, the French culture ministry said two images should remain in France: a self-portrait by Russian artist Pyotr Konchalovsky belonging to sanctioned Russian oligarch Petr Aven; and a work by Russian painter Valentin Serov, which belongs to the Museum of Fine Arts in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro.
The Ukrainian authorities had requested that this last painting remain in France until the situation improves.
After Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24, the EU adopted a series of sanctions, including those banning the sale, supply, transfer or export of luxury goods – including works of art – to Russia.