The drawings, depicting three 19th Century Russian warships – the Russia, the Empress Alexandra and the Fershampenuaz – surfaced unexpectedly among several works up for auction at Stockholms Auktionsverk in March 2008.
“Today is a very important day for Russia,” said Russia’s ambassador to Sweden, Alexander M. Kadakin, at a signing ceremony at the Russian Embassy where the works were formally handed over by the auction house.
“Many things have been stolen from Russian museums and galleries, only to surface abroad. And in this case we have these great artistic and historical treasures returning to their homeland.”
In accepting the drawings, Kadakin also thanked Stockholms Auktionsverk managing director Niclas Forsman for his cooperation in ending what the ambassador called “a thrilling detective story”.
In the tumultuous times following the collapse of the Soviet Union, hundreds of Russian art treasures went missing, including the one-of-a-kind warship drawings, which are thought to have been taken in 1992 when St. Petersburg’s Museum of the Military and Naval Engineering Institute was undergoing renovation.
Among the drawings was the only known depiction of the Russia, the Emperor’s flagship naval vessel in the Crimean War battle for Sebastopol.
Kadakin added that the fact that the drawings were accented with watercolour meant that they were meant to be seen by the Emperor himself.
Following their theft, the drawings weren’t seen again until they appeared in the catalogue for Stockholms Auktionsverk’s auction of Russian art in March 2008.
According to the auction house, the seller had purchased the works in good faith and had no idea they were considered stolen when he put them up for auction.
After learning of the drawings’ history, the seller agreed to donate them back to the museum in St. Petersburg.
“These drawings are extremely rare and very valuable, and we are happy to have them back,” said Kadakin, who again thanked the auction house for assisting with many of the legal and administrative details to help make the handover possible.
The head of Stockholms Auktionsverk’s was also happy to see the paintings start their journey back to Russia.
“I’m just pleased that this story has a happy ending,” he said.