Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s extensive art collection, valued at approximately US$1 billion, has been revealed to remain untouched and unseized despite his sanctions. Leaked documents from Cyprus have shed light on this remarkable collection, which was assembled by Abramovich and his ex-wife, Dasha Zhukova, over the years. This collection, comprising over 300 pieces, including works by renowned artists such as Picasso, Monet, and Degas, was valued at nearly US$1 billion in 2018, making it one of the most impressive private art collections globally.
Abramovich and Zhukova, during their nine-year marriage, cultivated a reputation as art enthusiasts, even co-founding a major contemporary art museum in Moscow. Zhukova serves as a trustee of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Notably, Roman Abramovich set a record price for a work by a living artist when he acquired Lucian Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” for US$33.6 million.
The recently leaked Cypriot files reveal the scale of their private art collection, which includes masterpieces like Picasso’s “Le Jeune Toreador”, Monet’s “La Plage à Trouville”, and sculptures by Henry Moore, Anthony Gormley, and Alberto Giacometti. This revelation significantly surpasses what was previously known about their art holdings.
Art experts have praised the collection, describing it as prestigious and iconic, with many pieces suitable for museums. Andrew Renton, a Professor of Curating at Goldsmith, University of London, noted, “You could fill a museum with it, this is a stupendous collection”.
The leaked documents also exposed how the Cypriot trust holding the collection, Ermis Trust Settlement, was restructured just before sanctions were imposed on Abramovich in February 2022. This restructuring reduced Abramovich’s share to below 50 percent, possibly to protect the art from sanctions. While some of Abramovich’s assets were frozen, including the forced sale of the Chelsea FC soccer team, the art collection remained untouched due to this strategic maneuver.
Dasha Zhukova, a US citizen, has not faced sanctions and has criticized Russia’s actions in Ukraine. However, there is no suggestion that she was aware of or involved in the trust’s restructuring.
The leaked files provide insights into how Abramovich and Zhukova built their collection, with art advisor Sandford Heller playing a pivotal role over a six-year period. The whereabouts of the art pieces are currently unknown, as Abramovich and Zhukova have not displayed their full collection publicly, with some pieces occasionally loaned anonymously to exhibitions.
Unfortunately, the collection has not been accessible to the public since Abramovich’s sanctions, leading to regrets among art experts and enthusiasts who view it as a missed opportunity to enjoy some of the greatest modern and contemporary works. Some pieces were transferred to Abramovich’s European properties or his US$1.3 billion yacht before the sanctions, but the collection remains largely out of public view.
The leaked documents from Cyprus have unveiled the magnitude and prestige of Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova’s private art collection, shedding light on their efforts to safeguard these priceless works amid sanctions, leaving the art world longing for a glimpse of these treasures once again.
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