Liechtenstein royal cancels major UK art exhibit

AP News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2009 2:03 PM

The prince of Liechtenstein has canceled a major London art exhibition because British officials have held up the export of a Renaissance painting he bought in 2006, officials said Wednesday.

Prince Hans-Adam II pulled the plug on the exhibition, planned for autumn of next year, because of a criminal investigation into whether the permission to export the painting was properly obtained, according to museum officials in London and Vienna.

Johann Kraeftner, director of the Collections of the Prince of Liechtenstein and the Vienna Liechtenstein Museum, stressed that neither the prince nor the museum was involved in the probe surrounding "The Infante Don Diego," by 16th century Spanish painter Sanchez Coello.

He said that the British government's failure to tell them what was going on during the more than two-year investigation meant that his institution could not trust it with its art.

"We are not going to entrust our great treasures to a state that treats us badly," Kraeftner said, adding he tried to find an "amicable solution" with the Royal Academy of Arts in London, where highlights from the prince's 500-year-old collection were due to go on display.

The exhibition had been due to include Italian and German Renaissance paintings as well as other work _ although "The Infante Don Diego" was not due to go on display, the academy said.

It added that it was disappointed by the prince's move and was working on finding an alternative to the show.

The British investigation was first made public in 2007, when Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs announced the arrest of an unnamed art dealer on suspicion of manipulating the documents needed to export "The Infante" and other works, including a 17th century Dutch masterpiece by Michiel van Musscher entitled "Portrait Of An Artist."

The agency declined comment when asked for an update on the investigation Wednesday, but confirmed that "The Infante" was still being kept in the U.K.

Kraeftner said his museum would be willing to reconsider a show in London once the matter was resolved.

"We just want legal certainty," he said.

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Associated Press Writer Veronika Oleksyn in Vienna contributed to this report.