Nina Moleva, ‘Putin’s art critic’ and owner of mysterious ‘$2 billion’ art collection, 1925–2024

Nina Moleva. Photo: youtube/studiofosforo1383

Nina Moleva, known at ‘Putin’s art critic’ has died, Nexta reports, bequeathing a collection reportedly worth $2 billion to the Russian president.

Moleva is said to have acquired the over 1000 paintings, sculptures and drawings, by the likes of Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt and other masters, from her late husband’s grandfather Ivan Grinyov, a stage artist in imperial Moscow, who hid them throughout the Bolshevik revolution in a fake attic.

Moleva and her husband, Ely Belyutin, known as the founder of the avant-garde 20th century New Reality artist movement, then discovered the artworks four decades later, on Grinyov’s death. Researchers have questioned the veracity of the story, with no trace of the father being found in any theatrical archives and most major collectors of the period well documented. A 2015 investigation for the Moscow Times posited the alternative theory that the works were taken out of wartime Europe by Belyutin, who was rumoured to have worked for the intelligence corp. The couple were also believed to have dealt art for members of the senior Soviet regime and would boast to guests that Fidel Castro once came for dinner.

Belyutin died in 2012, and Moleva has maintained for over a decade that the collection would belong to Putin on her own death, a fact which explained the constant presence of a 24-hour police guard outside her modest three-room central Moscow apartment. Previously the critic had tried to donate the works to the the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, but its curators refused the gift, believing that works attributed to Rubens, Velazquez, Van Dyck and others were likely fakes.

Art historian Éric Turquin, who saw the collection in the early 1990s, said that while it almost certainly was not worth the value Moleva maintained, he thought it ‘an altogether remarkable body of religious paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries, put together by this cultivated amateur collector during the Stalin era.’

Moleva wrote a number of books in her lifetime, including monographs on Bogdan Saltanov, the Persian-born Armenian painter at the court of Alexis I of Russia who headed the painting workshop of the Kremlin Armoury.

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