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Irina Antonova, the 91-year-old director of Moscow’s Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts who has helmed the institution for 52 years, has been let go after just recently renewing her five-year contract. The announcement, which was made on Monday, July 1, follows a battle waged by Antonova to bring a collection of Impressionist art, which was sent to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg by Joseph Stalin, back to Moscow.

Antonova’s vision was to restore the once magnificent State Museum of New West Art in Moscow, which housed paintings by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) and Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890). Stalin shuttered the museum in 1948 after his regime deemed the collection too far removed from Soviet art. The Museum of New Western Art’s collection, which was assembled by Russian art collectors Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov, was later divided between the Pushkin Museum and the Hermitage Museum.

Antonova first made her campaign public in April 2013 when she appealed to Russian president Vladimir Putin during a televised call-in show. The plea sparked controversy with the Hermitage’s director, Mikhail Piotrovsky. After a heated battle, the state intervened and suggested creating an online “virtual museum” as a compromise between the two parties but Antonova refused.

Since the Pushkin’s announcement earlier this week, Antonova has been moved to the ceremonial post of the museum’s president. Marina Loshak, an established curator, will replace Antonova.

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The Pushkin Art Museum in Moscow and the renowned Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg engaged in a public dispute on Tuesday, April 30, 2013 after Irina Antonova, the director of the Pushkin, asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to consider reopening the State Museum of New Western Art and restoring its original collection. The State Museum once housed the impressionist and early modern art collection of Russian art collectors, Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov, but it was closed in 1948 under Joseph Stalin’s dictatorship for straying too far from Soviet art. The Museum of New Western Art’s collection was later divided between the Pushkin Museum and the Hermitage Museum.

Officials at the Hermitage voiced their opposition to Antonova’s query as the museum could see some of its most prized artworks relocated to Moscow if the plan was approved. Antonova fired back by saying that the revival of the museum was a matter of historic fairness since the Soviet state was responsible for the museum’s downfall.

Morozov and Schukin’s private collection, which includes works by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), and Edgar Degas (1834-1917), was nationalized after the Russian revolution and used to form the core of the Museum of New Western Art’s holdings in 1912. After the museum closed, the collection was divided up under an agreement between the directors of the Pushkin and the Hermitage. For the Hermitage, the paintings were compensation for the hundred of old master works that were taken from Saint Petersburg to Moscow in the 1920s by Soviet officials when the Pushkin Museum was undergoing an expansion.

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Thursday, 20 December 2012 13:39

The Met Will Keep Controversial Cézanne Painting

In December 2010, Pierre Konowaloff, the heir to Russian art collector Ivan Morozov, filed a lawsuit claiming that he was the rightful owner of Paul Cézanne’s (1839-1906) painting Madame Cézanne in the Conservatory (1891), not the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Konowaloff explained that Morozov’s art collection was seized by the Bolshevik regime in 1918 and that when Stephen Clark, the collector and museum trustee who bequeathed the work to the Met in 1960, first bought the painting from Knoedler & Company in 1933, he did not carry out due diligence. Accusing the Met of wrongful acquisition, possession, display and retention, Konowaloff demanded that the work be returned to him and requested restitution for monetary damages.

On December 18, a judge in the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled that the Met could keep the Cézanne masterpiece, as the museum remains the work’s rightful owner. The Met has stood behind their right to the painting since the beginning of the entanglement with Konowaloff. The lawsuit was initially dismissed in 2011 by judge Shira Scheindlin who said that a U.S. court has no basis for questioning a decision made by a foreign government on distant soil. After the rejection of Konowaloff’s appeal, Met officials can finally leave the dispute behind them.

Konowaloff filed a similar suit against Yale University in 2009 over Vincent van Gogh’s (1853-1890) The Night Café (1888). Konowaloff claimed that the van Gogh painting was also stolen during the Russian Revolution and bought by Clark regardless of its questionable history.

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