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Looted art

Stolichny bank buys war booty

Russian bank revealed as major investor in the art market

The art collections of Russian banks are revealing their treasures. One of them, the five year old Stolichny Bank, currently possesses a first class collection of Russian and Western European art numbering several thousand pieces which might be the envy of a State museum. Built up over the past two to three years, the collection is to open to the public in two years time.

Most topical is its holding of European paintings of which around sixty have recently been identified as having entered Russia as war booty and were previously in the Dresden and Bremen Museums. The bank is now purchasing such paintings from private owners, and, in association with other banks, returning them to Germany after they have been valued by an independent Russian/German panel of experts. German institutions, including banks, would take the works in exchange for Russian art of equivalent value and the paintings will be exhibited in Germany, Russia, and in a third country with accompanying catalogues.

The collection is particularly rich in nineteenth-century Russian prints and late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century paintings. The bank’s cultural attaché Marina Loshak noted: “There’s everything. It’s easier to say what there isn’t: there’s no Kandinsky or Malévich. Until now we have not managed to find any first class examples of their work”.

Much of the Russian material in the collection is comprised of purchases which the bank made abroad, either because buying in the West has proved to be cheaper, or because similar items were simply unavailable on the domestic market.

There are around 500 Western European paintings from the late sixteenth to early twentieth centuries. There are also works by De Chirico, and Salvador Dalí plus a strong German holding of eighteenth- to twentieth-century works comprising 200 oils and ond hundred works on paper. The Expressionist section is considered outstanding.

Prints by Dürer, Rembrandt, Piranesi, Callot, Hogarth, and Ostade number around 1,000. Finally, a small collection of around 200 antiquities include a wonderful collection of antique bronze surgical instruments, ancient Roman glass, ceramic masks, a Scythian bronze, and some gold and silver items from the Goth cultures.

Prior to the opening of the museum much of the bank’s collection will still be “working”. Individual items are to be included in major State exhibitions, a series of six is being prepared for the USA, an exhibition of Russian Avant-garde in Italy is under consideration, and negotiations are taking place with French museums.