The Russian businessman Roman Abramovichformer football club owner Chelsea Among other assets that were inhibited in the context of Russia’s war with Ukraine, it holds one of the most important art collections in the world, made up of 367 works, including pieces by authors such as Picasso, Mondrian, Magritte or Freudwhich together could reach a value of 963 million dollars, as The Guardian newspaper has just revealed.
The details of the collection of Abramovich and his ex-wife, Dasha Zhukovacame to light for the first time thanks to the files known as “Oligarch Files”which leaked data from Cyprus-based offshore financial services provider MeritServus.
Over the span of a decade, the former Chelsea football club owner and his ex-wife appear to have created one of the most impressive private collections of modern art in the world: a treasure of more than 300 pieces whose value has been estimated by Abramovic’s own advisors at almost a billion dollars.
The revelation deepens the fall from grace of the Russian tycoon, who in March was sanctioned by the then British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the European Union in retaliation for the military offensive launched by Russia on Ukraine, which would involve the freezing of all its assets, including the Chelsea football club.
However, despite the inhibition of his ventures in Europe, ownership of Abramovich’s collection appears to have been safe. And the disappearance of his treasures, now in a limbo of offshore trusts and secure warehouses, is a huge public loss.
According to The Guardian, the works are listed as property of the Harmony Trust, of which the Russian businessman was the sole beneficiary. Between 2017 and 2018, the collection was transferred to a company called Seline-Invest, controlled by a trust based in Cyprus, the Ermis Trust Settlement, created in 2010 for the benefit of the oligarch. In February of last year, his ex-wife became “irrevocably entitled to 51%” of that trust.
Roman Abramovich’s art collection
In art market circles it was known that Abramovich and Zhukova were acquiring important works, but until now the exact scope of their collection was unknown, although some clues had emerged: in 2008, for example, the businessman entered the history of the auctions twice after purchasing for 86.3 million dollars, a “Triptych” of Francis Baconthe highest price for a post-war work of art.
A day before that milestone he had done the same with “Profit Supervisor Sleeping”, by Lucian Freud. The $33.6 million paid for the work made that artist the most sought-after living creator at that time.
Freud is undoubtedly one of the businessman’s favorite painters, who in addition to “Sleeping Profit Supervisor” also has two other works by the artist. But it is only the summit of what is a collection of authentic artistic treasures: the archives released by The Guardian indicate that the collection has pieces by great Russian, European and American masters of the 20th and 21st centuries. There are paintings by Monet and Mondrian, Matisse and Picasso, Natalia Goncharova and Véra Rocklineas well as sought-after paintings by Magritte, Kandinsky, Paula Rego, Frank Auerbach, David Hockney or Jasper Johns.
“You could fill a museum with them; this is a wonderful collection,” Andrew Renton, professor of curating at Goldsmiths, University of London, told The Guardian. “It is not the vulgar collection of a nouveau riche; it shows very good taste. Yes “You have enough money, you can buy a piece of history.”
Before European and British sanctions due to the war with Ukraine, Abramovich often lent works to be exhibited in important exhibitions. Such is the case of two paintings by the Portuguese artist Paula Rego which were shown in his retrospective at Tate Britain in 2021, his last public loan. With the war entering its twentieth month, there is no record of any recent movement to galleries or museums.
The fact that Abramovic’s private collection includes two of the most important (if posthumously recognized) artists of the last century says a lot about the oligarch’s capacity for artistic evaluation. Both “The Policeman’s Daughter” and “Dog Woman” are two of Rego’s best works, which is therefore a loss for the general public.
The same thing happens with Freud or Malevich: Abramovich seems to have put together a better collection of the best recent British work than the Tate. Without these paintings by contemporary artists you will never truly understand the achievements of art since 1945. And although these works were prominently displayed in British galleries as recently as 2021, they have become invisible since Russia attacked Ukraine.
I am an author and journalist who has worked in the entertainment industry for over a decade. I currently work as a news editor at a major news website, and my focus is on covering the latest trends in entertainment. I also write occasional pieces for other outlets, and have authored two books about the entertainment industry.