March 26, 2008 / 11:45 AM / 10 years ago

Russian oligarch pays for Turner exhibit in Moscow

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia is to exhibit paintings by the English artist William Turner for the first time since 1975 despite a sharp downturn in relations between London and Moscow.

<p>Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov smiles in his office in Moscow September 3, 2007. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin</p>

Metals billionaire Alisher Usmanov -- who maintains close links with the Kremlin and owns nearly a quarter of the London soccer club Arsenal -- has bankrolled the exhibition between Moscow’s Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and London’s Tate Britain.

“The generations have changed since Turner was last in Moscow and it’s important that the young see him,” Zinaida Bonami, Pushkin museum deputy director, told Reuters by telephone on Wednesday.

A row over the 2006 murder of former KGB agent and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London triggered the worst fallout between London and Moscow since the Cold War.

Both sides expelled diplomats and the British government’s cultural arm was forced to close two regional offices. Some observers have linked a police crackdown on BP’s Russian joint venture TNK-BP to the row, though the Kremlin has denied this.

In December last year, only a last minute deal secured 120 Russian paintings for an exhibition at London’s Royal Academy after Moscow had said it was worried the artworks would be confiscated.

But at a news briefing, Tate Britain director Stephen Deuchar said he was sure the exhibition of 110 oil and water color paintings, including some of Turner’s most famous, would go ahead in November.

“This show is about culture relations and at the end of the day about a relationship between the Tate and the Pushkin,” he said.

Turner, who lived between 1775 and 1851, is revered for his romantic, abstract paintings and use of light. Many experts consider him the inspiration for a generation of French artists who painted in the ‘impressionist’ style.

Many of his works depict violent storms, fires and battles with shards of light piercing the scene.

“He’s a truly great artist,” Irina Antonova, director of the Pushkin museum, said at the briefing.

The exhibition, from November through to March 2009, will show some of Turner’s finest works, including a 1799 self portrait, the 1812 “Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps” and the 1845 “Norham Castle, Sunrise.”

But Usmanov -- whom the Forbes Rich List describes as the world’s 91st richest person with an estimated fortune of $9.3 billion -- declined to give the cost of the show.

Instead he joked: “It’s not the last of my money.”

Editing by Richard Balmforth

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