How Putin helped billionaire put together an ‘impossible’ art exhibition

In 2016, Bernard Arnault, billionaire president of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE, traveled to Moscow with his advisor Jean-Paul Claverie to personally thank Russian President Vladimir Poutine for loaning works of art to the Paris museum of ‘Arnault, the Louis Vuitton Foundation.

“Because it is a gift for France”, explains Claverie, speaking in his office strewn with books in the Parisian offices of LVMH. “Not just in France, in Europe and in our world. “

It was not just any art that Putin had allowed to leave the country. It was a profusion of masterpieces by Monet, Matisse, Picasso, Gauguin, Cézanne and others, totaling 130 works of art, all collected by industrialist Sergei Shchukin at the turn of the 20th century.

But Claverie and Arnault weren’t just there to thank Poutine. They also came with a request.

“We said, ‘Mr. President, thank you for the Shchukin collection, we have it in Paris now. You have another collection. If you make up your mind right away, if you say yes, we’ll do another exhibition, ”Claverie recalls.

The collection in question was put together by Ivan Morozov and his brother Mikhail, two wealthy Russian textile merchants who, like Shchukin, collected hundreds of Impressionist and modern works of art around the turn of the 20th century. Like the Shchukin collection, most of the Morozov brothers’ works of art were nationalized after the 1917 revolution, and then absorbed mainly into the collections of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the National Museum of Fine Arts. Pushkin arts in Moscow and the State Tretyakov Gallery. in Moscow.

Putin, in Claverie’s account, briefly considered the request “and then said,” Jean-Paul? Yes.'”

Overjoyed, Claverie called his counterparts in Russian museums. “I said, ‘Your president has decided to let us bring the Morozov collection to Paris, so now we have to start working on it.'”

Now, after four years and a pandemic, the collection will finally be open to visitors from September 22 to February 22, 2022.

What it took
There was a lot to do in the interim. Because so many works of art were in poor condition – they had suffered decades of neglect under Stalin – the only way Shchukin’s collection could leave Russia was to first establish a conservation / restoration laboratory at the museum. Pushkin, for which LVMH paid an undisclosed sum.

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