Sotheby’s to Auction Re-Discovered Collection by Ukrainian Artists

Sotheby’s will offer a unique grouping of works by the ‘Society of Independent Artists,’ or ‘Odessan Parisians,’ as one critic called them—an avant-garde group of Ukrainian artists who painted in the early years of the twentieth century.

Eighty-six works will be offered as a single lot in the Russian Art auction on 22 April 2010 in New York. The collection was compiled by Yakov Pereman, a patron of the arts in Southern Ukraine (then Russia) who moved to Palestine in 1919, taking his art with him. After a series highly publicized exhibitions in the 1920s and a memorial exhibition in 1960-61, the collection was not seen again in public for over 40 years, when select works were exhibited at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in 2002. The paintings have not been seen in Ukraine since Pereman left. The collection is estimated to fetch $1.5/2 million.

Yakov Pereman was a keen follower of the arts in the 1910s and a central figure in the art world of Odessa, where the turn-of-the-century art scene was increasingly comparable to those found in Moscow and St Petersburg. Pereman sponsored several critically acclaimed exhibitions of the Odessan Parisians, as he began putting together a collection of their best paintings and drawings. Among the works he acquired were those by Amshei Nurenberg, Micail Gershenfeld, Isaac Malik, Theophil Fraerman, Sigismund Olesevich and Israel Mexin.

Their very name—the ‘Independents’—suggests their independence from traditional artistic movements. Indeed, parallels have been drawn between them and the French ‘Société des Indépendants;’ the Odessans clearly drew inspiration from the likes of Matisse, Gauguin, Cézanne and Van Gogh. They employed similarly radical styles and represented the same characteristic subjects, including cafés, carnivals and street scenes. Many ‘Independents’ had personal ties to their Western European counterparts— Fraerman knew Matisse, worked with Degas and spent time in Rodin’s studio, while Nurenberg studied at private Parisian academies and shared a studio with Chagall. The group also exhibited alongside Wassily Kandinksy and the Moscow ‘Jack of Diamonds’ group as early as 1914, further demonstrating their high standing at the time.

It had long been Pereman’s intention to take his collection to Palestine, and he even hoped that Nurenberg, Malik and Fraerman would join him in establishing a museum dedicated to the ‘Independents.’ Shortly after Pereman’s arrival in Tel Aviv, the collection was exhibited several times, attracting the attention of critics and Israeli artists alike. In 1932, the first mayor of the City even asked Pereman to bequeath select works to the new Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Reluctant to break up his collection, Pereman declined, and his memorial exhibition aside, it was not until 2006 that the entire grouping was exhibited together, at the Maria and Michael Zetlin Museum of Russian Art in Ramat Gan. The exhibition was considered a revelation, since not only did it showcase a superb collection, but also it represented a rarely seen period of art history, one that had been thought to be lost for generations.

Pauline Mamicheva-Nurenberg -Still Life with a Green Bottle Photo: Sotheby’s