France has withdrawn 15 artworks from an exhibition at Moscow’s Kremlin Museums set to open this month, following the lead of the U.K., Spain, and Austria, which had previously recalled their loans. In the wake of deteriorating relations between Russia and the international cultural community, the Kremlin Museum announced it would postpone the show, “The Duel: From Trial by Combat to a Noble Crime,” and offered lenders the option to renounce their involvement.
France had contributed the most artworks to the show, with 15 drawn from some of the country’s most prestigious institutions, including the Louvre, Versailles, and the French National Library. It announced its decision the day after the informal meeting of European ministers responsible for culture and media.
Speaking on France’s participation in Russian cultural events, French culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot said, “Our presence could have been exploited as a sign of a divergence between European countries,” according to the newspaper Le Monde.
She added that there “was no question of dissociating oneself,” however correspondences with the Kremlin Museum have remained “cordial” and “without any kind of manifest hostility.”
The exhibition explores the culture of dueling during the 16th and 17th centuries, and was scheduled to run from March 3 through June 16. Talks between Moscow and the European institutions opened in early 2020, with the loan agreement finalized in February 2021. The Louvre sent six pieces, including a painting from the studio of Jean Clouet, as well as a pair of pistols bearing the coat of arms of France. Two paintings by Philippe de Champaigne, respectively depicting 16th century French clergyman Cardinal Richelieu and Cardinal Mazarin, came from Versailles. These works are likely to head to the French Embassy in Moscow, since it has been difficult to travel artworks to and from Russia.
As the siege of Ukraine enters its third week, artists and cultural institutions worldwide are still grappling with whether to support so-called “cultural sanctions” of Russia. Several artists have reacted by demanding the closure of ongoing exhibitions in Russia, or for their work to be pulled from group projects. Meanwhile, institutions with close ties to Russia are also taking unprecedented steps, with branches of the Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam and London severing ties with the flagship St. Petersburg institution, which is among the biggest art spaces in the country.