Russian Minister on looted Baldin collection: “This collection should be returned and we will return it”

A legal loophole may enable the restitution to Germany of a collection taken to the USSR by a Soviet army officer in 1945

Russia’s Minister of Culture, Mikhail Shvydkoi, has said that a collection of drawings taken from Germany at the end of World War II will now be returned to a museum in Bremen, despite an order from Russia’s General Prosecutor forbidding the move. “This collection should be returned, and we will return it,” Mr Shvydkoi said last month on a visit to St Petersburg.

The return of the so-called Baldin collection of 362 drawings and two paintings was agreed with Germany last year. But the General Prosecutor then blocked the move saying it violates Russia’s law on restitution. A group of nationalist and communist parliamentarians had lobbied the Prosecutor’s office for this decision, saying that restitution could only be made if Germany paid compensation.

The Ministry of Culture has now hit back. It says that a loophole in the restitution law allows for the return of art to its original owners if the art was brought to Russia by individual soldiers, and not taken officially by Red Army trophy brigades.

The Baldin collection was brought to the USSR in 1945 by Viktor Baldin, a Soviet army officer, and later director of the Museum of Architecture in Moscow.

Baldin confiscated the collection, which includes drawings by Delacroix, Manet, Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian, and Van Gogh, as well as paintings by Dürer and Goya, from Soviet soldiers who had found the works in the cellar of a castle north of Berlin. He brought it to Moscow in a suitcase. He later said he had acted to save the works from destruction and he repeatedly called for the collection to be returned to Germany.

A year ago the collection was transferred from the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg where the paintings were being conserved and studied, to a Ministry of Culture vault in Moscow. Mr Shvydkoi has not said when it is likely to be returned to Germany.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Russian Minister on looted art: “This collection should be returned and we will return it”'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 145 March 2004