Rembrandts for Tractors: Soviet Art Export and the Creation of the U.S. National Gallery of Art

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At the end of the 1920s, the Soviet Union started industrialization with no gold and currency reserves. The government feverishly sought gold to pay tremendous foreign debts acquired as a result of purchases of foreign equipment, raw materials, aid of specialists, and technologies. Export of art became one of the means to finance the Soviet industrial leap forward. This case study encourages readers to think about the extraordinary ways a government can raise money to finance its ambitious projects, and the implications that such state strategies might have for national cultural heritage and international cultural exchange. In this particular case, the 21 masterpieces of Western art from the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) sold by Stalin’s government to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon, formed a core of the famous National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

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