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14 Feb, 2024 11:12

Putin willed $2bn worth of art – media

A legendary private collection has reportedly been donated to ‘the president of Russia’ after its owner’s death
Putin willed $2bn worth of art – media

President Vladimir Putin has reportedly been named as inheritor to the private art collection of Russian arts expert Nina Moleva, who passed away aged 98. She claimed to have had the collection valued at around $2 billion.

The collection reportedly contains about 1,000 pieces, including 200 paintings by old masters, such as da Vinci, Rubens and Titian, as well as sculptures and furniture. However, fact is difficult to tell from fiction in the family saga.

Moleva was the widow of Soviet avant-garde painter Ely Bielutin and the collection came from his side of the family tree. Legend has it that it was started in the 1870s by Bielutin’s grandfather Ivan Grinyov. He was a scion of Russian nobility and an acclaimed artist in his own right, who was commissioned to produce sets for top national theaters.

Grinyov’s daughter married a man from an Italian-Russian family named Michele Bellucci (actress Monica Bellucci is allegedly a distant relative), which is Russified as Mikhail Bielutin. Ely was born to the Grinyov-Bellucci marriage in 1925.

Grandfather Grinyov’s ambition was to create a private collection that could rival those of famous Russian philanthropists of his age. He built a house in central Moscow to serve as a gallery, complete with seven spacious halls and a secret room. After the Bolshevik revolution, the Bielutins hid their valuables before the new authorities seized the property and turned it into a communal home.

Ely’s career in the USSR was reasonably successful, with his privileges including a five-room apartment in the heart of Moscow. From 1949 the Bielutins gained access to the old Grinyov gallery through their maid, who lived there, and managed to extract the collection from the secret room. Later, their connections in the Soviet elites and their many donations to museums proved to be sufficient protection to openly keep possession of the art.

The Bielutins wanted Russia to get everything after their deaths, and identified “the president of Russia” in their will as the final recipient due to unspecified quirks in the national inheritance law. Ely passed away in 2012.

Skeptics say Bielutin and Moleva may have seriously overstated the value of their collection, considering that its provenance was never properly authenticated. There were reports in the past about some museums rejecting their donations.

Art critic Mikhail Bode, who had personally visited the apartment years ago, told TASS that “no self-respecting arts expert” believes the works to be of much value.

”I recognized the images and authors… and said it was surprising, considering that the same paintings hang in museums. Bielutin said: the museums have copies and copies of copies, and I have the originals,” Bode recalled of his visit. He added that the Bielutins didn’t vouch for that claim.

Further complicating the situation are claims that the Bielutins had willed part of their collection to Poland rather than to Russia. The Russian Belluccis were based in Krakow, which was part of the Russian Empire at the time.

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