Finland will return three shipments of art bound for Russia that had been confiscated by customs officials, the Finnish foreign ministry announced Friday.
The painting and sculptures — worth a collective $46 million — were en-route to Russian museums from Italy and Japan when it was seized at the Vaalimaa border crossing on suspicion of violating European sanctions on Russia, according to Customs Enforcement Director Hannu Sinkkonen.
In a statement, Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs said that the European Union amended its existing rules to exempt certain cultural artifacts from its list of sanctions. The legislative changes went into effective on April 9, after which customs officials issued permits for the export of the artworks. The rule change extends only to “cultural goods which are on loan in the context of formal cultural cooperation,” the statement said, without further elaboration on its motivation for the exemption.
Many of the confiscated works were on loan from Russia’s State Tretyakov Gallery and the State Museum of Oriental Art for shows at two Italian galleries, Milan’s Scala Square and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Udine. Other artworks were returning to Moscow’s Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts from Chiba City Museum in Tokyo.
Russia has been hit with severe sanctions from the European Union and the United States following its invasion of Ukraine. The Finnish Foreign Ministry said the E.U. list of sanctions included art, which had been categorized as “luxury goods.
The sanctions complicated Russia’s efforts to recall its cultural property currently on loan to European institutions amid rapidly deteriorating international relations. In March, the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, requested several high-profile loans be withdrawn early from display in Milan and Rome. Meanwhile, the governments of Spain, Austria, and France have suspended relationships with Russian museums and withdrawn their respective loans from a planned exhibition at the Kremlin Museum.
France’s Minister of Culture Roselyne Bachelot said in a statement that the country’s participation in Russian cultural events, “could have been exploited as a sign of a divergence between European countries,” according to the newspaper Le Monde.
The French government agency announced Saturday that at least two paintings on display at Paris’ Fondation Louis Vuitton in a blockbuster exhibition of works from the collection of Ivan Morozov, a deceased Russian businessman and collector of avant-garde French art, will remain in France.
One picture belongs to Russian oligarch Petr Aven and the other is the property of the Dnipropetrovsk Art Museum in Dnipro, Ukraine, AFP reports. Aven, a financier with known ties to Vladimir Putin, is currently the target of sanctions. His painting will not return to Russia “so long as its owner remains targeted by an asset freeze,” the ministry said in a statement.
The statement continued that the second painting, by the Russian artist Valentin Serov, will not return to Ukraine “until the situation in the country allow its return in security.” It stressed that this decision was “at the request of the Ukrainian authorities.”
The Morozov exhibition closed in April. Most of the display— some 200 pictures—belongs to the collections of the State Tretyakov Gallery, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, and St. Petersburg Hermitage.
Transport of the collection is set to take place over land, to accommodate the restrictions on air travel between Western Europe and Russia. However, a third painting from the show linked to another sanctioned Russian oligarch, Viatcheslav Kantor, is currently under assessment by France.