Government passes new law to end Russian art row: minister
( AFP ) - Britain on Sunday said it had passed an order to prevent the seizure of paintings from Russia due in London for an exhibition by people claiming they were looted from their families in the 1917 revolution.
Culture Secretary James Purnell said the order would come into effect Monday and stop exhibits in the Royal Academy's "From Russia" show being claimed by people who say the works belonged to their families.
The works - drawn from four Russian museums -- include paintings by Impressionists Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse and Vincent Van Gogh.
The situation has provoked a diplomatic tussle between London and Moscow, whose relations have chilled after Russia's refusal to extradite the chief suspect in the death of ex spy Alexander Litvinenko in London last year.
In another dimension to the dispute, Russia has said it will close down two branches of the British Council, which promotes British culture worldwide, in January over alleged tax irregularities.
"I hope that bringing forward this further legislation will see the great works in the 'From Russia' exhibition open at the Royal Academy this January," Purnell said in a statement.
His department was honouring a previously-outlined pledge to fast-track legislation which had been due to come into effect in February ahead of the show, which is due to open its doors on January 26.
Last week, Marina Elzesser, deputy director of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, one of those due to lend works for the show, said that Britain may only have two weeks to pass the law and to keep the exhibition on track.
Two days previously, a representative of Russian state culture agency Roskultura told Interfax news agency that it would take a decision on whether the show could go ahead only after the law comes into effect to allow officials to be sure of its provisions.
The Royal Academy's chief executive Charles Saumarez Smith said he now expected the show to go ahead as planned.
"We anticipate that the Russian Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography will give final approval to the loans on January 8 when the department re-opens after the New Year holidays," he said.