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U-turn settles UK-Russia art row

  • Story Highlights
  • Exhibition of art from Russia will travel to London next month as planned
  • Russian officials reversed earlier decision to cancel show
  • Britain brought forward legislation promising art would not be seized
  • Dispute was the latest sign of tense relations between Britain and Russia
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- A row over a ban on an exhibition of art loaned from Russia has been resolved after Britain brought forward laws that will protect the paintings from seizure.

Moscow's Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts has pulled the plug on a planned exhibition in London.

Russian officials had threatened to block the release of works by artists including Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Picasso in case their ownership was disputed by individuals claiming they were stolen during the 1917 revolution.

But on Friday Moscow backed down after Britain said it would fast-track new legislation promising the art would not be seized while in the country.

Russia's Federal Culture agency said it would issue licences for the paintings to travel to London's Royal Academy of Art next month but spokeswoman Natalia Uvarova told the UK's Press Association that "the law must ensure the art's immunity from seizure."

The exhibition, "From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870-1925 from Moscow and St. Petersburg," includes more than 120 works from Russia's principal collections, including the Pushkin and the State Hermitage Museum.

Included are Henri Matisse's "The Dance" and Paul Gaugin's "Maternity (Women on the Seashore)," as well as works by Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Kandinsky.

Two directors of Moscow's Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts had said the exhibition, currently on show in Duesseldorf, Germany, had said on Wednesday they were concerned some of the artworks would be subject to private legal claims.

But after Russia pulled the show, the British government decided to bring forward the signing of new legislation which guarantees that art lent to Britain will have immunity from seizure.

A spokeswoman for Britain's Department for Culture, Media and Sport said it informed Russia of the plan and got a positive response from the head of Russia's Agency for Culture and Cinematography.

"In the letter that they sent to us yesterday, he was talking about the legislation and he said, 'We will be ready to send the exhibition "From Russia" to London immediately,'" said spokeswoman Fiona Cameron.

The Royal Academy of Arts said it expected the exhibition to take place as planned, opening January 26.

Cameron said the new legislation was passed in July but was going through a consultation period that ended this week. Normally, such legislation comes into effect 21 days after the consultation period ends -- which in this case would be sometime in January.

The dispute was the latest sign of tense relations between Britain and Russia following the murder in London last year of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko.

Britain issued an extradition request for its prime suspect in the case, Moscow-based businessman Andrei Lugovoi, but Russia refused to hand him over. Britain then expelled Russian diplomats from London, leading to the expulsion of British diplomats from Moscow.

The tit-for-tat continued last week when Moscow ordered the closure of the Russian regional offices of the British Council, a cultural organization partly funded by the British government.

The Russian government said the council had breached Russian tax laws and lacked proper legal documents, although the British ambassador linked the decision to the Litvinenko fallout. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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