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Major Modern Russian collection heads to Fondation Louis Vuitton

After Shchukin show, private Paris museum cements Franco-Russian relationship with exhibition of blue-chip works bought by Morozov brothers

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Portrait of Jeanne Samary (1877) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. (© The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts)

The Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris continues its run of high-profile Modern art shows organised in collaboration with major museums worldwide, announcing that it will show late 2020 the prestigious collection amassed by the early 20th-century philanthropist brothers Mikhail and Ivan Morozov. Works by Cézanne, Van Gogh, Derain, Bonnard and Picasso—drawn from the collections of the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, and the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts and State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow—will be included along with Russian avant-garde pieces.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art website, the merchant patron Ivan Morozov began buying works from Parisian dealers around 1903, purchasing his first Picasso painting, The Two Saltimbanques (Harlequin and his Companion, 1901) from the dealer Ambroise Vollard in 1908. He housed his collection in a villa in Moscow but after the October Revolution of 1917, his holdings were nationalised and handed over to the Museum of Modern Western Painting.

After World War II, the museum collection was transferred to the State Hermitage Museum and the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. Picasso’s Young Acrobat on a Ball (1905), another Morozov piece, is housed at the latter institution. Ivan Morozov also bought works by Russian artists such as Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova.

Early last year, a Van Gogh painting owned by Ivan Morozov’s great-grandson, Pierre Konowaloff, was at the centre of a lengthy legal battle when the US Supreme Court rejected an appeal over the ownership of The Night Café (1888). The work subsequently remained in the collection of Yale University.

The Morozov announcement reflects the influence of the private museum’s founder, the billionaire LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault. Indeed, the show is the latest coup for the Fondation Louis Vuitton; in March, it closed a blockbuster exhibition of 130 pieces from the collection of another Russian businessman, Sergei Shchukin, bringing together the works for the first time since they too were seized by the Soviet state after the Bolshevik Revolution. 

And in another landmark exchange, the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) is lending 200 works of art to the Fondation Louis Vuitton for an exhibition opening this autumn. Etre Moderne: Le MoMA á Paris (11 October-5 March 2018) will present key works from all six MoMA departments, including examples by Cézanne, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso and Ellsworth Kelly.