Museum Security Network

The U.K. government enacted a law aimed at clearing the way for an exhibition of masterpieces from Russia to go ahead next month in London

U.K. Passes Art Immunity Order to Clear Way for Russian Exhibit.  Culture Secretary James Purnell issued a legal order, to take effect from 12:01 a.m. London time tonight, to meet Russian concern that U.K. law did not protect artworks loaned from abroad against third-party seizure, the ministry said in an e-mailed statement. The Russian authorities canceled an exhibition entitled, “From Russia: French and Russian Masterpieces, 1870-1925,”on Dec. 19 because they said the U.K. failed to offer guarantees the works would be immune from third-party confiscation. On Dec. 24, Russia said it might give the go-ahead for the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts if the U.K. sped up legislation. “Thousands of works of art are lent to exhibitions in the U.K. each year,” Purnell said in the statement today. “I hope that bringing forward this further legislation will see the great works in the From Russia exhibition open at the Royal Academy this January.” The legal order is part of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 that protects cultural objects borrowed from overseas. Russia doesn’t want a repeat of events in November 2005, when Swiss customs officials impounded 54 French impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces from Moscow’s Pushkin Museum. `Final Approval’ “We expect that the exhibition will now go ahead,” the Academy’s chief executive, Charles Saumarez Smith, said in a separate e-mailed statement today. “We anticipate that the Russian Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography will give final approval to the loans on Jan. 8 when the department reopens after the New Year holidays.” The exhibition is sponsored by E.ON AG, Germany’s biggest utility, and is on display at Dusseldorf’s Museum Kunst Palast until Jan. 6. The State Hermitage Museum and the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts are among four Russian museums that have lent about 120 paintings by 20th-century French and Russian artists such as Cezanne, Gauguin, Matisse, Kandinsky and Malevich. Diplomatic relations between Russia and the U.K. are strained over the radioactive poisoning murder of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko in November 2006. Russia has refused to hand over Andrei Lugovoi, another ex-KGB agent, whom U.K. prosecutors want to put on trial for the murder. Lugovoi was voted into the Russian Parliament, the State Duma, in December. On Dec. 12, Russia announced it was closing down the regional offices of the British Council, which functions as the cultural center for the U.K. abroad. A telephone call to Natalia Uvarova, spokeswoman for the Federal Agency of Culture and Cinematography, wasn’t immediately returned at the start of a week of public New Year holidays in Russia. 

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Beech in London at or John Varoli in New York at

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