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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pushkin Exhibit Of 'Trophy' Art Angers Germans

The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts opened a controversial exhibition Monday of 63 paintings taken from Germany by Soviet troops after World War II, immediately drawing the ire of Germany, which is seeking to regain the works.


The so-called 'trophy art,' hidden in the Pushkin Museum and the Grabar Restoration Center since the war, includes priceless works by such famous artists as El Greco, Auguste Renoir and Edouard Manet. Both the concealment of the paintings for 50 years and the secrecy surrounding the exhibition until the very last moment led to sharp German criticism.


The German press attach?, Rainhold Frickhinger, voiced anger that his country was only informed last Tuesday of the imminent exhibition, when the ambassador received an invitation to the opening.


Frickhinger also said he found it "insulting that prior information as to the nature of the paintings involved was denied the German Embassy." He saw the paintings for the first time at a press conference Monday morning.


Frickhinger said the Pushkin's clandestine approach contrasted to that of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, whose inclusion of German officials in the preparation of next month's exhibition of war spoils was "reasonable behavior between two countries developing a new partnership."


The name of the Pushkin exhibition itself contains a barb: It is being called "Saved Twice," an overt reference to the view, prevalent in the Pushkin, that the paintings were "rescued" in the first place by the Russian troops themselves, then again by the skill of Soviet restorers.


The question of future ownership, however, is complex, not least because many paintings came from private collections in Germany, and not from state galleries. This creates endless legal problems, and Germany's claim to the paintings could be contested by the original collectors' families.


The Pushkin's director, Irina Antonova, said she would strongly oppose the restitution of war spoils. She said the works of art are small compensation for the losses the Soviet Union suffered in the war -- a statement that received applause from parts of the audience. The current exhibition is only the tip of the iceberg: The 63 paintings on show are apparently just a sixth of the total store of paintings in the Pushkin that were taken from Germany. Separate exhibitions have been planned as well for drawings and for the Trojan gold, in September 1995 and January 1996, respectively.


To mitigate the implications of such a treasure trove, Antonova was anxious to stress the number of works returned to East Germany in the 1960s: 354, including 271 works from the Pushkin alone. After being asked repeatedly why the Pushkin had kept the existence of these paintings secret for so long, Antonova snapped, "You are as aware as I am of the recent changes in our country, such as glasnost. That is all I have to say."


Antonova said every major museum in the world is unable to exhibit all of its holdings at the same time, and must keep some in store. However, museums tend to store their less important work, and not something as seminal as Francisco de Goya's "Carnival" -- one of the biggest surprises in the exhibition.


Until now, Moscow's holdings of the great Spanish artist have been limited to etchings, so the major oil painting is a crucial addition to the city's collections.


Also of international importance are two oil paintings by the French artist Honor? Daumier. Daumier is best known for his engravings and caricatures, which appeared in the contemporary popular press and contributed significantly to the development of critical realism in the 19th century. On show for the first time are "Laundresses on the Stairs" and "Revolt," both major works in the artist's oeuvre. The latter, painted between 1848 and 1849 as an immediate response to the 1848 uprisings in France, is one of many works in which Daumier expresses his disapproval of Louis-Philippe's bourgeois monarchy.


The exhibition also includes first-rate examples of French Impressionists, such as three D?gas, three Renoirs and two Manets. The Pushkin, aware of the international appeal of these artists, had already hinted at their inclusion in the exhibition.


However, a completely unexpected gem is a piece of "The Judgment of Paris," by the German artist Hans von Marees. This enormous painting was done in Munich in 1880 and 1881, and was thought lost by art historians. The Pushkin here reveals that it has, for half a century, been in possession of fragments of the work, exhibited as "Three Nude Putti."


Frickhinger said Germany will oppose attempts by the Pushkin to exhibit the works abroad, which may make this a unique chance to view one of the century's greatest collections of hidden art.