Art Loan to London Exhibit in Doubt

APPeople passing a poster advertising the "From Russia" exhibit outside London's Royal Academy of Art on Wednesday.
A federal cultural agency has canceled a major exhibition of French and Russian paintings set to open in London in January, fearing the art could be seized to settle private legal claims, a museum official said Wednesday.

A cultural official, however, said a final decision on lending paintings for the exhibition, called "From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870-1925," would be made Thursday. And the Royal Academy of Art in London said the exhibition would open as planned.

The uncertainty about the exhibition has arisen at a time when relations between Russia and Britain have been badly damaged by the case of former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned in London last year. Moscow has refused to extradite the man wanted by Britain in connection with the slaying.

Zinaida Bonami, deputy director of Moscow's Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, said the Federal Culture and Cinematography Agency notified the museum and three others Tuesday that it would not issue an export license for the works, including famous paintings by Matisse and Van Gogh. The State Hermitage Museum, the State Russian Museum and the Tretyakov Gallery were also denied licenses, she said.

The agency explained its refusal, saying British law does not protect against artworks being seized by lawsuits or court decisions, she said, adding that she did not know whether the decision was politically motivated.

Natalya Uvarova, an official with the Federal Culture and Cinematography Agency, which oversees export licenses, said the final decision on canceling the exhibit would be made Thursday if Britain failed to provide the necessary guarantees.

"I don't see any sort of political subtext here," she said. "We're following long-established procedures that require a state guarantee for these sorts of exhibitions."