11/09/2011 04:44 am ET Updated Jan 08, 2012

France Battling UK Gallery Over 'Stolen' Painting

There have been a lot of stolen paintings changing hands and other ownership disputes in the art world lately, but we usually see estates battling it out in court, not entire countries. Last week, however, French authorities may have started a miniature Hundred Years' War, barring a visiting UK gallery from bringing a disputed painting back across the channel.

"The Carrying of the Cross," by Nicolas Tournier, turned up at Paris Tableau, a small art fair dedicated to the work of the Old Masters. It was purchased for 400,000 euros ($550,000) by London's Weiss Gallery at last year's Maastricht art fair, and France has now forbidden the painting to be exported until its ownership can be determined.

The French Culture Ministry claims that the painting was once property of France. "This was the property of the French state that was deposited at the Augustins Museum in Toulouse and was stolen in 1818. It is a non-transferable work," the ministry said in a statement on Monday.

Mark Weiss, owner and director of Weiss Gallery refutes these claims, citing France's knowledge of the painting's whereabouts the entire time. Weiss told AFP, "I've been in communication with the director of the Toulouse museum since I acquired the painting in 2010, and at no stage has he ever stated that the picture was a stolen painting."