Bloomsbury Russian Literature and Art Auction

This December 4th Bloomsbury offers an extraordinary collection of Russian literature and art gathered by a discriminating Russian collector in New York. This careful selection was drawn from three centuries of Russian culture from the Tsars through Stalin. It comprises rare books, manuscripts, letters, fine prints, posters, photographs, photocollages and gouaches.

Much of the literature and art of the sale reflects two lost eras, that of tsarist Russia and the Russian avant-garde. The contrast between the two is perhaps best exemplified by Alexandre Benois’ opulent 1904 Silver Age alphabet book and Vladimir Lebedev’s bold 1925 Constructivist ABC. Benois who founded with Sergei Diaghilev the World of Art group that evolved into the legendary Ballet Russes epitomizes the old aesthetic with his exquisite masterpiece An Alphabet in Pictures. Lebedev provided a lean mean Communist picture book stripped down to its visual essentials and incorporating the new Russian alphabet as revised by the Soviets. Some of the most celebrated avant-garde writers and artists including Mayakovsky, Pasternak, Kharms, Kandinsky, Malevich, Lissitzky, Rodchenko, Stepanova, Klutsis, Kulagina, Telingater, Tatlin, Goncharova, Larionov, Zdanevich, Khlebnikov, Kruchenykh and Kharms among others are well-represented in this collection.

Other highlights are an original unused photocollage cover by Rodchenko for one of Kruchenykh’s books and a striking photocollage portrait of the great German political satirist John Heartfield. The presentation copies include works signed by Tolstoy, Nekrasov, Esenin, Shostakovich and Zoschenko. There is a rare clandestine copy of Tolstoy’s controversial novella The Kreutzer Sonata that was banned both by the Tsar and the US Postal Service! Besides a boldly signed photograph of the great Russian novelist, the collection has a photograph album of 49 snapshots of Tolstoy and his estate believed to have once belonged to his secretary. Chekhov’s classic play The Cherry Orchard will be offered both as originally serialized in a journal and its first book publication. Among the other rarities are Ayn Rand’s two Soviet movie books she later disowned. The nearly unobtainable Oktyabr v cube [October in Cube](circa 1919) with its original collages is known by only five copies and the equally difficult suite of prints Iskusstva v byt [Art in Everyday Life] (1925) is nearly impossible to locate in any condition and rarely complete. Also included are several banned Yiddish books from the 1920s and beautifully illustrated by Chagall, Lissitzky and others that were censored and confiscated during Stalin’s final years.

The culture wars of modern Russia continued to rage long after the October Revolution. During the Purges of the 1930s, these once revolutionary artists were denounced as counter-revolutionary and were banned, imprisoned and sometimes executed by the Soviet regime. Today Russians and others are rediscovering these extraordinary artists responsible for the unique and powerful Russian style of the twentieth century.

Viewings of The Ivan Collection of Russian Literature and Art: will be held on Monday December 1 – Wednesday December 3 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. The auction will begin promptly at 10:00 am on Thursday 4 December.

Auction info