Russian Art to be Auctioned by Christie’s London

Christie’s have announced the auction of Galerie Popoff – An Enduring Passion for Russian Art which will take place on 12 and 13 October 2009 in London, and which will present exceptional Russian works of art from one of the most renowned Russian galleries in Paris. The auction will offer around 550 lots including rare Russian and European 18th century and 19th century porcelain, watercolours, paintings, works of art and textiles. Established in 1920, Galerie Popoff, located just opposite the Elysée Palace in Paris, has long been recognised as one of the most esteemed sources of Russian art. The exceptionally fine collection of 18th century porcelain, assembled by three generations of collectors and art dealers, is the subject of a book, entitled Masterpieces of 18th century Russian porcelain from the Collection of the Popoff and Cie gallery published earlier this year, with contributions from several distinguished porcelain experts from prestigious Russian museums.

Piotr Sokolov
Piotr Sokolov (1787-1848), Portrait of Empress Alexadnra Feodorovna and Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna, 1829. Estimate: £100,000-150,000. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd 2009

Alexis de Tiesenhausen, International Head of Russian Art: “We are delighted that Christie’s has been chosen to offer this collection for sale and to be able to add an additional Russian Art sale to this year’s autumn sale calendar. Galerie Popoff, one of the longest-serving Russian art dealers in the world, has attracted many important collectors over the past 90 years as a result of Alexandre Alexandrovich Popoff’s commitment to offer only the best of the best. This high standard has been maintained by subsequent directors of Galerie Popoff to the present day. This sale provides a unique opportunity to acquire not only a piece of Russia’s artistic heritage but also to acquire part of a highly respected and important collection, which will be remembered and revered by the Russian art world for many years to come.”

Although Alexandre Alexandrovich Popoff (1880-1964) died nearly fifty years ago, his legacy as a connoisseur and collector remains undiminished. His interest in Russian art was all encompassing, but his primary passion was porcelain. The first session of the sale, on Monday 12 October, will focus on 18th century Russian and European porcelain. Most of the important services produced by the Imperial Porcelain Factory and the Gardner Factory are represented. Many lots have important Imperial provenance, such as pieces ordered by Catherine the Great, Grand Duke Paul Petrovich, the future Paul I, Empress Maria Feodorovna, Emperor Nicholas II and his wife Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

One of the leading highlight of the auction is part of a porcelain service made by the Royal Berlin Porcelain Factory in 1778 for Grand Duke Paul Petrovich (estimated £200,000- 300,000). This magnificent service was commissioned by Emperor Frederick II of Prussia and all the pieces offered in the sale feature the coat of arms of the Imperial Russian Empire and the arms for the Duchy of Hollstein-Gottorp, Paul’s patriarchal arms.

To celebrate the coronation of Catherine the Great in 1762, following the deposition of her husband Peter III, the Imperial Porcelain Factory in St Petersburg created a special presentation covered cup and saucer. The cover is crowned with the two headed Imperial eagle, making this lot unique. No comparable example exists, even amongst the most prestigious museum collections in Russia (estimate: £150,000-170,000).

Watercolours of the Popoff Collection – 13 October 2009
Alexandre Popoff not only had the eye of a connoisseur for exquisite porcelain, he also had an unparalleled knowledge of Russian watercolours. The Popoff Collection features works by the most prominent artists working in Russia in the early 19th century, including Alexander and Karl Briullov, Piotr Sokolov, Orest Kiprensky, Alexei Venetsianov and Vladimir and Edward Hau. The watercolour portraits of the collection are exceptional in terms of their quality and variety of artists and members of the Russian nobility depicted. They provide a picturesque window on a bygone era and a valuable record of a fascinating society.

An excellent example is Vladimir Hau’s Portrait of Natalia Nikolaevna Pushkina (1812-1863), the only one known in private hands (estimate £120,000-160,000). Natalia Pushkina, wife of the great poet Alexander Pushkin was renowned for her beauty and she attracted the attention of the young Baron d’Anthès. Maddened by jealousy, Pushkin challenged him to a duel and died two days later as a result of his wounds.

The early 19th century aristocracy, including members of the Imperial family, features strongly in this collection. One of the highlights is the Portrait of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna by Piotr Sokolov (1787-1848). This charming work depicts both members of the Imperial Family by the seaside in 1829 (estimate: £100,000 -150,000) and is widely considered to be the pièce maitresse by Sokolov.

Giovanina Pacini (1799-1852) was Karl Briullov’s model on several occasions. Giovanina’s mother, Countess Julia Samoilova, was the richest woman in the Russian Empire. She was romantically involved with the artist and commissioned several portraits of her daughter. The present work is an excellent example of the artist’s use of chiaroscuro and his capability for exquisite rendering of detail. The subject emerges out of the several layers of her delicate shawl, complemented by the atmospheric background (estimate £100,000-120,000).

Russian Works of Art and Textiles
The Popoff Collection also incorporates a large selection of Russian works of art and textiles. Embroidery has been at the heart of Russian court, domestic and ecclesiastic tradition for centuries. The kokoshnik, sarafan and the festive scarf for formal occasions show the wealth of the wearer as well as her regional roots as each area had its own characteristic patterns and traditions. To the contemporary viewer the national dress spoke volumes. The cresen-shaped kokoshnik told the viewer that the wearer came from Central Russia (lot 262; estimate: £3,000-5,000)) and the velvet conical pill box headdress told of Moscow Province (lot 255; estimate: £4,000-6,000). This collection of scarves, sarafan and kokoshniki can therefore take the modern connoisseur straight back to history.

Auguste Montferrand’s delicately drawn study for the monument of Nicholas I in St Isaac’s Square, St Petersburg is a discovery of great importance in the Popoff Collection. It is sold together with a portfolio comprising Montferrand’s original drawings of the structure and sculpture of the monument (estimate: £60,000-90,000) Montferrand was architect of the northern capital’s two most distinguished squares – Palace Square and St Isaac’s Square. The drawing has particular resonance this year as the monument was erected 150 years ago.