The Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris seems to be busy building cultural bridges between France and Russia. On 18th July plans for yet another blockbuster show were announced: this time French and Russian art from the collection of two famous early 20th century Russian patrons Mikhail and Ivan Morozov. The show will include works by Cézanne, Gauguin, van Gogh, Bonnard, Denis, Matisse, Derain, Renoir, Monet, and Picasso along with the Russian avant-garde artists that have rarely been seen together outside Russia. The works will be lent by the State Hermitage Museum, the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and the Tretyakov Gallery. The opening, which will mark another step in the Franco-Russian cultural friendship, is scheduled for autumn 2020. The exhibition is expected to continue for four months and build upon the success of the recent Shchukin collection show (it ran from 22 October 2016 until 5 March 2017 and attracted over 1.2 million visitors to the museum in four and a half month). Subsequently, the exposition will travel to the State Hermitage Museum and the State Pushkin Museum.
At the turn of the 20th century, at the same time as the Shchukin brothers, the Morozov family was at the epicentre of Moscow cultural life. It embodied and practically invented the notion of the “patron of the arts.” The Morozovs and the Shchukins were the rival collectors. Ivan Morozov initially collected works of young Russian painters (such as Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova) but from 1907 onwards he began acquiring French art for his newly rebuilt villa. He bought The Two Saltimbanques (Harlequin and his Companion), 1901, from the dealer Ambroise Vollard in 1908. Other sources inform that Ivan Morozov began buying works from Parisian dealers around 1903. However, all specialists agree that whereas Sergei Shchukin seemed to be somewhat adventurous in his choices, Morozov was more circumspect, focussing on select works of the exceptional quality by a lesser number of artists. All his art treasures including the villa were nationalised by the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution in 1917. After World War II, the Morozov collection was split and then transferred to the State Hermitage Museum and the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts.
Similarly to Shchukin’s descendants, the Morozov’s descendants were also involved into legal battles, attempting to restitute some works. For instance, only recently Ivan Morozov’s great-grandson, Pierre Konowaloff, was at the centre of a lengthy legal battle which he did not win: the US Supreme Court rejected an appeal over the ownership of Van Gogh’s famous painting The Night Café (1888) which originally belonged to Morozov but then was sold by the Soviet authorities in the 1930s. The painting was eventually acquired by Stephen Carlton Clark, who bequeathed it to the art gallery of Yale University. Following the decision of the court, the work continues to remain in the Yale art collection. The Shchukin’s descendants seem to have been more successful in their legal battles — the situation has eventually resolved into their direct participation in organising of the recent exhibition at the LV Foundation.
The upcoming show at the LV Foundation is orchestrated by the contemporary patron of arts, LMVH CEO and billionaire collector Bernard Arnault, whose influence and vast fortune are key factors in his ability to make such prestigious international exhibitions possible. Arnault and his team first managed to break through challenging diplomatic and bureaucratic obstacles, and turned the dream of the Shchukin show into a vivid, palpable reality. The opening of the Shchukin collection exhibition was attended by the French president François Hollande; and Russian president Vladimir Putin personally thanked Arnault. The Morozov art collection is another challenge which Arnault and his team have successfully surmounted.