Published  02/11/2007

Hostages to fortune

The revelation that the collection of 20th century western art built up during the reign of the last shah of Iran is still languishing in museum cellars within Iran is no surprise to the art world, nor to dealers. Included in the collection, built up at the instigation of Queen Farah from the burgeoning oil profits of the 1970s, were such works as Jackson Pollock's 'Mural on a Red Indian Ground'. Most important perhaps is Picasso's 'The Painter and his Model'. There are works by Monet, Van Gogh, Pissarro, Toulouse-Lautrec, Braque, Miró, Magritte and Gauguin, as well as key portraits by Andy Warhol. The works cannot be seen. However, painter Habibollah Sadeghi, an Ahmadinejad loyalist and appointed by him, is in charge of curating the collection; space, or the lack of it, is the excuse for not showing the works. There is even a fine design for a museum of modern art, by Viennese architect Hans Hollein, dating from the time of the collection. But in this containment underground, Iran may be casting an eye on the longer term, which given the present sabre rattling in Washington DC, may be the safest place. Or one is bound to speculate as to whether this collection, with a combined value of at least £2 billions today, might not reach the market in the near future. The collection is unlikely to be seen as a bargaining counter in the present détente.

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