One of the world's greatest private collections of modern art is to go on show for the first time outside Russia, museum curators told AFP Wednesday.
The collection of more than 250 paintings put together by Sergei Shchukin before the Russian revolution will go display in its entirety in October at the Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris -- a major coup for the newly-opened gallery.
The super-rich collector filled his Moscow mansion with some of the finest French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, making a kind of Orthodox altar in one room with 16 of Gauguin's Tahiti paintings.
But his trove of 50 top-notch Picassos, 38 works by Matisse, 13 Monets, eight Cezannes and four Van Goghs that the textile merchant picked up on business trips to Paris, was seized after the October Revolution in 1917.
Lenin himself signed the decree to expropriate the works, before Stalin scattered the collection to museums in Moscow and St Petersburg, condemning some of the greatest masterpieces of 20th-century art as "bourgeois and cosmopolitan".
"This is a historic event which will have people coming from all over the world, something we are not likely to see again for a while," said Jean-Paul Claverie, an advisor to the luxury goods tycoon Bernard Arnault, who opened the private Foundation Vuitton at the end of 2014.
The paintings will go on display in the spectacular building designed by the architect Frank Gehry on October 20, with the "Icons of Modern Art" show running till January 20.
- Huge cost -
The show will also include 30 major pieces from the Russian avant-garde Suprematist and Constructivist movements, loaned by the Tretyakov State Gallery in Moscow and the Russian Museum in St Petersburg.
Shchukin, who fled Russia for France after the revolution, had a particularly close relationship with Henri Matisse, who he brought to Moscow in 1911 to decorate his palatial home.
He also commissioned two of the artist's most important works, "The Dance" and "Music", which are likely to be centrepieces of the Paris show, which will be curated by the former head of the city's Picasso Museum, Anne Baldassari.
The exhibition is the fruit of years of negotiations between LVMH boss Arnault and the Russian authorities, with a partnership agreement signed Wednesday between the foundation and the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and Moscow's Pushkin museum at the Russian foreign ministry.
LVMH had previously bankrolled the loaning of two other versions of Matisse's "The Dance" held by Paris' Museum of Modern Art to the Pushkin in 2004.
Claverie confirmed that the costs involved in taking the Shchukin collection abroad were probably beyond the reach of many of the world's top museums.
"(The show) is a very strong signal. A great private benefactor, Bernard Arnault, wanted to pay homage to a great collector," he said. "Big private collectors often play a key role in putting together the collections of great public institutions."