An ordinary building in a residential block downtown Moscow has been guarded by two policemen sitting in a car, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with another policeman keeping watch just outside the apartment door. Wondering why? There is a good reason why, and the reason just might be worth 2 billion dollars. Apparently, a mysterious art collection with over 1000 paintings, sculptures and other works of art has been in possession of an elderly woman named Nina Moleva. Just until recently, the entire collection, which includes artworks by da Vinci, Rembrandt, Michelangelo and other Renaissance masters belonged to Moleva, but she willingly decided to bequeath it to the state, or more precisely, to the president Vladimir Putin. So, naturally, as the state officials confirmed, the police is there to protect the collection.
This particular collection and its backstory have raised many questions that still might need answering, since a lot of experts and art historians have doubts about the owner’s stories. Not only that, but the authenticity of the artwork in question and the actual worth are also hanging in the air. Moleva’s late husband, Ely Belyutin, and she have claimed that the collection comes from Belyutin’s grandfather, Ivan Grinyov, a former stage artist in imperial Moscow. According to their story, Grinyov collected the works at European auctions, and once the Revolution came about, hid them in a fake attic to avoid confiscation from the Bolsheviks. 40 years later, once Moleva and Belyutin moved into the place, they allegedly found the treasure, rolled up and stored in cylinders. Untouched, preserved and safely tucked away, waiting for the couple were the works of Velazquez, van Dyck, the Rubens and many other iconic names. Moleva stated that a Paris-based auction house appraised the entire collection, giving it a starting price of $400 million and an estimated real value of staggering $2 billion.
According to some journalists who were given a tour of the apartment and who spoke with Moleva, this is the story she kept telling over and over again. But, journalist Alla Shevelkina visited the couple twice and decided to go deeper than others to investigate this report. The doubtful journalist said that each time there was a different story and a different version of where the collection was hidden. Also, she discovered that the art-loving ancestor Grinyov cannot be verified or found in the registers of Moscow property owners. As for the two names of Grinyov she had found in imperial theater archives, both were dancers and both belonged to females. Shevelkina is not the only one who doubts the couple’s story, the Moscow art community has a lot of skepticism about this whole situation as well. Some experts and critics claim that it would have been difficult to acquire such items and no one knows where the art came from. Others believe that the big names in the collection are surely copies, or not even there.
Other theories regarding the mysterious collection’s origins include Belyutin having worked as a Soviet military intelligence officer, and that he had come into possession of the art during World War II, as part of the trophy art which was brought back from defeated Germany. Many such items are even displayed in the Pushkin Museum and the Hermitage, various paintings on show have been taken from Germany. Either way, one thing is known for sure, whatever is actually in the collection, and no matter what the origins are, the entire assemblage will go to Putin. The family had intended for a long while to leave the artwork to the state, but for legal reasons a single name had to be designated, so Moleva wrote down Putin’s name.
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All images used for illustrative purposes only