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French Authorities Seize Oligarch’s Painting Before It Leaves for Russia

The spokesman declined to say where the works were being held, “for obvious security reasons.”

Until Apr. 3, the two paintings had been on display at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris as part of “The Morozov Collection: Icons of Modern Art,” a huge exhibition of works that once belonged to the Russian textile magnates Ivan and Mikhail Morozov. Their collection, which includes works by Gauguin, Van Gogh and Picasso, was expropriated about a century ago, after the October Revolution, and became state property.

Most of the paintings in the show came from Russian state museums, including the State Hermitage Museum, in St. Petersburg, and the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, in Moscow. Under a 1994 French law designed to encourage international art loans, those works cannot be seized by French authorities, because they were lent by a foreign government, said Freda Matassa, an art consultant who has helped develop a similar anti-seizure law in Britain.

But, Ms. Matassa said, the French law does not apply to works owned by private individuals.

Representatives of Mr. Aven and the Museum of Avant-Garde Mastery did not respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for the Louis Vuitton Foundation said it would not comment, either.

Even before the seizures, some art shipment firms expected “Morozov Collection” works to experience difficulties returning to Russia, because the war in Ukraine has interrupted traditional routes for air and road freight. The most direct route into Russia from Western Europe is now via Finland, yet last week, Finnish customs officials impounded three shipments of fine art at the border between the two countries, suspecting that the cargo breached European Union sanctions. The works were swiftly released when it became apparent they fell outside the sanctions’ scope.

The French culture ministry said it was also keeping a third painting from “The Morozov Collection” in Paris for safety reasons. That work, “Portrait of Margarita Kirillovna Morozova” (1910), by Serov, belongs to the Dnipropetrovsk Art Museum, in the eastern Ukraine city of Dnipro, which is expected to soon be the subject of a Russian assault. Ukrainian authorities requested the painting remain in Paris until it is safe for it to be returned, the culture ministry spokesman said.

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