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The Guardian (UK)
July 23, 2003
US museum sued in battle over who owns art treasures nationalised by Lenin
Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow

The grandson of a Russian art collector is suing a Los Angeles museum over 25 paintings due to show there on Sunday which he claims were stolen from his family by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Andre Marc Delocque-Fourcaud, the grandson of Sergei Shchukin, a merchant and one of the biggest art collectors in tsarist Russia, filed a lawsuit last week for a share of the revenue from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's show.

The paintings include works by Van Gogh, Czanne, Degas and Matisse, together with many notable Picasso works, such as Harlequin and His Companion (1901), Spanish Woman From Mallorca (1905) and the 1912 cubist work Violin.

Attempts by Mr Delocque-Fourcaud, a French citizen, to recover the works have been criticised as "hooliganism" by the director of Moscow's Pushkin Museum, Irina Antonova, who said the lawsuit improperly questioned the nationalisation of Russian art treasures by Lenin in 1918.

Briefed on Lenin's plans to nationalise their collections, Shchukin and other collectors wrote to the Bolsheviks in 1918, offering to cooperate if they were made lifetime directors of the museums where the art was held. Lenin ignored them.

"The laws have not been cancelled and are acknowledged elsewhere in the world," Ms Antonova said.

Some art experts believe the lawsuit will deter other museums from lending out their collections, especially if ownership is disputed.

The exhibition, called Old Masters, Impressionists and Moderns: French Masterworks from the State Pushkin Museum, Moscow, and organised by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, started in November and has crisscrossed America.

Ms Antonova said the collection was protected by an agreement with its first exhibitors, in Houston, and by the state department.

Edward Klein, a lawyer acting for Mr Delocque-Fourcaud, said the immunity might have been improperly granted be cause his client's claim to the works had been understated. He said his client had gone to court in Europe three times to try to recover the works.

Mr Klein said the LA lawsuit was the latest step in a campaign to recover the paintings and gain "recognition of the illegal seizure of the works by the Bolsheviks and Lenin 85 years ago".

He added: "It should not be permissible for American institutions to traffic in stolen property."

He insisted, however, that his client was not seeking the seizure of the works, merely "blockage of the show", or compensation. "If they take out the 25 works, I guess they can do the rest of the show."

The LA museum's lawyers have also said the lawsuit is without merit and insisted that the exhibition will run as planned.

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