National Gallery keeps artwork at home for fear of confiscation in France

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From May until December this year, the Czech Republic will be showcasing Czech culture at a festival called Bohemia Magica in France. The festival includes a long series of cultural events promoting Czech film, literature, theatre, music and art. In a couple of weeks the French public was expecting to see an exhibition of a priceless collection of art - the Vincenc Kramar Collection, which includes 17 Pablo Picasso paintings. But it seems visitors to the Czech Season in France will be denied a glimpse of the artwork. The owner of the collection, Prague's National Gallery, is refusing to let the artwork travel to France, fearing possible confiscation by the French authorities. Pavla Horakova has the story.

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The gallery's decision regarding the Vincenc Kramar Collection, which contains famous works including 17 Pablo Picasso paintings, was based on the opinion of the gallery's lawyer. He advised against releasing the Kramar collection for the festival in France. He said it should remain in Prague, because the French government "cannot give an unambiguous, universal guarantee that the art objects won't be seized". The Czech Minister of Culture Pavel Dostal and the director of the National Gallery Milan Knizak support the legal advice.

The gallery's officials claim the collection was donated to the Czech government shortly after Vincenc Kramar died in 1960, but the collector's descendants say they have the legal right to the art. The two sides have been fighting the matter in court for years, and so far the government has prevailed. But Mr Knizak now fears that if the collection goes to Paris, the French authorities may not stop Kramar's descendants from trying to have the art confiscated.

Czech President Vaclav Havel, who is to take part in the Paris programme, has appealed to minister Dostal to change his mind and do everything he can for the Kramar collection to be displayed in Paris. Mr Havel is concerned that the Czech Republic will face embarrassment on the international stage.

Earlier today I contacted the head of the Bohemia Magica festival, Olga Kubelkova. Unfortunately, she declined to comment on the issue, saying she was not entitled to give her own opinion. She only said the matter had to be settled between the Czech National Gallery and its French partner, the festival organiser.

This case is not the first of its kind in the Czech Republic. A similar dispute in March involved an American descendant of a Holocaust victim who claimed rights to paintings owned by a Prague gallery. The Czech government approved the inheritance claim, but has labelled the art a "national treasure" and has refused to let it leave the country. Last autumn, minister Dostal temporarily refused to allow state-owned art to travel abroad because he thought an American media company might use a legal dispute against the government as a basis for seizing the art after it crossed the border.