In this file photo taken on September 15, 2021, a woman looks at paintings by French painter Pierre Bonnard during a press visit of the exhibition "The Morozov Collection - Modern art icons" at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. Image Credit: AFP

Paris: Two pictures from a hit Paris art exhibition of masterpieces from a Russian collection rarely seen abroad are to remain in France in the wake of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the French government said Saturday.

The Morozov collection, built up by brothers Mikhail and Ivan Morozov, attracted more than a million visitors while on show for over six months in Paris before finally closing earlier this month.

But there have been questions about the return of the works due to the sanctions and restrictions imposed after Russia attacked Ukraine.

One picture owned by a Russian oligarch targeted by Western sanctions and another belonging to a Ukrainian museum “will stay in France”, the culture ministry said Saturday after uncertainty over the return of the pictures following the record-breaking exhibition.

A source close to the issue, who asked not to be named, told AFP that the first picture is a self-portrait by Russian artist Pyotr Konchalovsky owned by the Russian oligarch Petr Aven.

Aven, a billionaire financier and banker, is seen as close to President Vladimir Putin and is the target of Western sanctions imposed after Russia’s attacked Ukraine.

This painting “will remain in France so long as its owner... remains targeted by an asset freeze,” the ministry said in a statement.

The second picture, a painting of Margarita Morozova by the Russian painter Valentin Serov, belongs to the Fine Arts museum in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro and will stay in France “until the situation in the country allows its return in security”, said the ministry.

It emphasised that this was “at the request of the Ukrainian authorities”.

Meanwhile, France is assessing the situation concerning a third picture owned by a private foundation linked to another Russian oligarch who is being added to the sanctions list, the ministry said.

The source added to AFP that this picture is owned by the Magma foundation linked to Viatcheslav Kantor. He is already targeted by UK sanctions over his shareholding in a fertiliser company.

Symbol of cooperation

The exhibition was on show at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris from late September until April 3.

It is now being dismantled and the some 200 pictures returned to the museums in Russia where most of them are usually kept.

The highlights of the collection include works by Impressionists and other European masters rarely shown abroad, as well as great works of Russian art.

Most of the Morozov collection is now held by the Tretyakov and Pushkin museums in Moscow and the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg rather than by private collectors.

But there have been concerns about the return of the pictures, which had been expected to take place by land rather than air due to the current restrictions on air travel between Europe and Russia.

The culture ministry has indicated the collection could benefit from an exemption to the rules on restrictions as the works had been loaned in a cultural cooperation deal.

More than one million visitors had seen the show by the end of February, close to the record 1.29 million people who visited another Louis Vuitton show of works from a major Russian collection of Sergei Shchukin in 2016-2017.

Russia’s ambassador to France Alexei Meshkov said last month it was “no secret” that there were problems over the return of the works due to the “drastic” measures agreed in the wake of the invasion.

The exhibition was inaugurated in September months before the invasion in a ceremony attended by President Emmanuel Macron and Russia’s Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova in a sign of Paris’ determination to keep up cultural cooperation with Russia.

The Louis Vuitton Foundation is one of Paris’ most prestigious exhibition locations, created by the billionaire founder of the LVMH fashion conglomerate Bernard Arnault and housed in an iconic building designed by Frank Gehry.