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Painting By Worlds Most Expensive Female Artist Expected To Fetch Over £1.5 Million At Bonhams

Bonhams’ Russian Sale on 2 July 2008 will feature an exceptional oil painting by the world’s most expensive female artist. When it goes under the hammer in London at 101 New Bond Street. The Sailboat, by Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962) is expected to fetch £1.5 – 2 million.

goncharova.jpgNatalia Sergeevna Goncharova (Russian, 1881-1962) The Sailboat Estimate: £1,500,000 – 2,000,000

Never previously seen at auction, the painting has an impeccable provenance. Emerging from the collection of the family of Sir John Rothenstein – Director of the Tate Gallery between 1938-1964 – it is highly likely that the work was given to Sir John by the artist in the 1950s. Rothenstein – the Tate’s longest serving Director – was pivotal in “dragging the British art world screaming and kicking into the 20th century”, as stated in his obituary in The Independent.

The painting depicts a boat sailing out of a storm into calm waters. Goncharova’s cubist leanings are evident in the fracturing of timescales, with the boat at once in both stormy and still seas. Stylish and striking, the work is crowned with the artist’s initials ‘NG1′ on the sail; a distinctive touch by this exceptional artist.

Most probably a painting of the late 1920s, it is believed that the artist gave the work to Sir John Rothenstein on one of his many visits to her Paris studio. Rothenstein was captivated by Goncharova and her husband Mikhail Larionov and through his patronage as Director of the Tate, he helped bring their work to prominence. Rothenstein even noted in his diary in 1955 that the couple had said that “my coming to their studio had been a turning point in their lives, like their meeting with Diaghilev”.

Bonhams’ Specialist in Russian Art, Sophie Hamilton, says: “Goncharova was exceptional in her lifetime: a pioneer of the Russian avant-garde which was well-ahead of its time, although interrupted by the Revolution. She is now receiving long-overdue attention on the auction market and is becoming a truly international name.”

Natalia Goncharova was one of Russia’s most important 20th century artists. Together with Mikhail Larionov, she was a prominent figure in the pre-Revolutionary Moscow avant-garde, an artistic group in which women commanded an unusual degree of freedom and respect. Her work encompassed many styles from Cubism and Futurism to Neo-Primitivism and Rayonnism, and she worked in many forms, from oil painting to textile design. Some of her major work was for the theatre, designing sets and costumes for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Goncharova encouraged Russian émigré artists to look to their own heritage and create a truly indigenous Russian art.

The artist was a radical both in art and in life. She and Larionov, who lived together for decades as an unmarried couple, were interested in pushing boundaries, for instance painting on their own and friends’ bodies images, or offensive words or phrases, and then parading through the wealthiest parts of the city, or sitting in cafés.

In spite of achieving fame in her own country, Natalia Goncharova has only now reached the level of recognition granted to other Western female artists, smashing all records when her 1909 painting Picking Apples fetched £4.9 million ($9.8 million) at auction, projecting her into the spotlight as the world’s most expensive female artist.

With the surge of interest in Russian art, Goncharova’s work is highly sought-after by collectors and can be found in private collections and in many institutions around the world. The current exhibition at The Royal Academy of Art in London From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870–1925 from Moscow and St Petersburg features several of her works.