It is nothing short of miraculous that the Royal Academy’s blockbuster show ‘From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870–1925 from Moscow and St Petersburg’ is now open at last, up and running, swirling and dancing like the figures in Matisse’s own ‘The Dance’, perhaps the great coup of the exhibition. For reasons not entirely supportable in the early twenty-first century, descendants of the original Russian collectors who first acquired the works had threatened, knowing the weakness of English law in this respect, to seek redress once the works had reached Britain. Suddenly, and with remarkable speed, the law was tightened up by guarantee. No one could blame to Russian Government for fearing confiscation.
Now that can never happen, and the show is in place. The courage and diligence of Royal Academy officials, from the outgoing Secretary Sir Norman Rosenthal to his successor, has to be admired: what is amazing is the extent to which such looseness in the law governing such matters could be allowed to prevail for so long.