Sotheby’s London Summer Sales of Russian Art, will present for sale Russian Paintings, Works of Art, Fabergé, Icons and Contemporary Art. The Evening auction of Important Russian Paintings will take place on Monday, June 6, 2011, the Russian Paintings Day Sale will be staged on Tuesday, June 7, 2011 and Russian Works of Art, Fabergé and Icons takes place on Wednesday, June 8, 2011. Combined, all three auctions are estimated to realise in excess of £20 million.
Important Russian Art Sale – Monday, June 6, 2011
Highlighting the sale will be Ilya Efimovich Repin’s (1844-1930) oil on canvas Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Vera Repin, dated 1878, which is widely considered one of the finest portraits of the artist’s career. Repin first met Vera Shevtsova (1855-1918) when she was only nine years old, and she inspired some of Repin’s most admired watercolour and pencil portraits. This particular portrait remained in Vera’s collection, hanging in her flat on Karpovka until she died, at which point it was sold by her daughter.
Vera fell in love with Repin while she was still a student at the Mariinsky Institute. She was only 16 years old when they were married in 1872, and Repin was ten years her senior. Though no match for him intellectually, she was a sympathetic and appealing character, simple and childlike in her needs. Their relationship became stormy, and nine years after the present work was painted the couple separated; they reunited in 1894 but the marriage finally fell apart in 1900. The present masterpiece dates from a less troubled period of their lives and remains the only known, published portrait of Vera Repin to exist outside museum collections. Since it is, above all, his portraiture that has earned Repin international fame as one of the greatest Western European practitioners of this genre, the reemergence of an intimate family portrait from this period is a major event for all collectors and scholars of his work. The painting is estimated at £1,000,000-1,500,000.
Further highlights in the sale include a group of outstanding paintings from renowned Russian artist Vasily Vasilievich Vereschagin (1842-1904). These museum quality artworks are fresh to the market and have not been seen publicly since the 1900s. Shipka Pass is the most impressive canvas ever to be offered at auction of Vereschagin’s Balkan series, which consists of 25 paintings and 50 studies inspired by his first hand impressions of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78. Not only does the present work mark a pivotal event of Russian history, but in its restraint and minimalism, is also one of Vereshchagin’s most modern compositions. In anticipation of hostilities, moved by patriotism, and as Vereschagin simply put it, filled with ‘a great desire to see with my own eyes a regular European war,’ the artist requested to join the staff of the Russian army as a volunteer in October 1878. Vereschagin was anxious that his series of Balkan paintings should not be broken up, but although the future Tsar Alexander III and Grand Duke Nicholas both expressed an interest in acquiring them, some of the canvases were deemed too controversial and the Prussian military attaché even advised the Tsar to buy and destroy the entire series. In the event, Pavel Tretyakov purchased five of the most important works; Ivan Tereschenko, a Kiev sugar baron, acquired five of the other large canvases together with a number of studies and the remainder of the series was dispersed across the world following an auction in New York in 1891. This oil on canvas is estimated at £300,000-500,000.
On Campaign, also from Vereschagin’s Balkan series comes from an Important European Collection. The painting bears a hand-written authentication in Cyrillic by Vereschagin’s widow dated October 15, 1904, suggesting that it remained in the artist’s collection until his death in 1904, at which time his widow was forced to sell the work to pay off debts. On Campaign is an extraordinarily complex composition and perhaps the most artistically ambitious of the entire Balkan series. The painting is estimated at £400,000-600,000.
The Taj Mahal, Evening, is one of the most important works to have resulted from Vereschagin’s trip to India from 1874 to 1876. The artist often approached the same monument or landscape at different times of day and from varying perspectives, trying to catch the particularities of the changing light, and he is known to have painted several versions of the Taj Mahal. A smaller view from the river in bright daylight is a highlight of the collection of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Two additional views of the Taj from the garden, in the morning and the evening, were included in the sale at the American Art Galleries in New York in 1891, when the present work was also first sold. The intensity of color in Vereschagin’s Indian paintings surpassed that of his earlier works, including the Turkestan series, and astonished critics at home and abroad. The painting is estimated at £250,000-450,000.
A further work is Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky’s (1817-1900) oil on canvas Shepherds with Their Flock at Sunset in the Crimea, dated 1859. The painting depicts grazing sheep, a theme which appears variously throughout the artist’s oeuvre. Aivazovsky often depicted sheep grazing peacefully on the Crimean steppe or in Ukraine; before shearing; bathing in the Black Sea; during a rainstorm, or packed into a solid mass under the heat of the evening sun, as in the present painting. Over the course of the 1870s and 1880s the artist returned again and again to a theme which clearly captivated him. More than ten pictures with a similar subject are known to exist and some of these paintings can now be found in Museums in Omsk, Irkutsk, Odessa, Ashgabat, Ulan-Ude, and Chelyabinsk. One of these paintings — Sheep at Pasture (1850s) — is held at the Tretyakov Gallery. This museum-quality artwork is estimated at £800,000 -1,200,000.
Another highlight from the forthcoming Important Russian Art Sale is Zinaida Evgenievna Serebriakova’s (1884-1967) oil on canvas Reclining Nude. Acquired from the family of the artist by the present owner, this piece is one of the finest large-scale oils by Serebriakova ever to come to auction, and shows the artist at the height of her powers. The artwork recalls the nudes of Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet; Serebriakova had arrived in Paris in the mid-1920s and was undoubtedly influenced by these masters in her adoptive homeland. Serebriakova’s appreciation of the plasticity of the female form was extraordinary, yet from the mid-1930s, she painted increasingly fewer nudes. Several of the Russian girls in Paris who used to pose for her got married around 1934, and without the means to pay for professional models, Serebriakova simply lacked the opportunity to return to one of her favourite subjects. Reclining Nude is property from a private European collection and is estimated at £600,000-800,000.
Among the two contemporary artworks in the upcoming Russian Art auction will be Erik Bulatov’s (b.1933) oil on canvas Winter. The painting was completed in 1988, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, a period widely considered to be the artist’s best. The painting comes from a private collection and is estimated at £60,000-80,000.
Also featured is Alexander Evgenievich Yakolev’s (1887-1938) oil on canvas Opera in Peking, which is dated 1918. This important painting is estimated at £800 1,200,000. One of the most important works to be painted during the artist’s trip to the Far East in 1918, it underscores the artist’s belief that an appreciation of the richness of ancient Chinese civilisation was crucial in grasping the essence of modern day China. Exceptional in its daring use of perspective, Yakovlev’s powerful composition is believed to depict a scene from a 16th century play by the poet Tang, The Peony Pavilion, which subsequently became the template for the story of a perfect love.
Russian Works of Art, Fabergé and Icons on Wednesday, June 8th, 2011
Highlighting the forthcoming Works of Art, Fabergé and Icons sale is a Silver Service for Tea and Coffee, dated 1899-1908. Designed by prominent silversmith Andrei Bragin, this neo-Rococo style set is comprised of a large samovar, tray, coffee pot, covered sugar bowl, creamer, small bowl and a cake basket. Bragin was best known, between 1852 and 1917, for producing very fine work following the Historicism trend, and examples of his art are in leading Russian museums, including the State Historical Museum in Moscow. This impressive set is estimated at £100,000-150,000.
Included in the Fabergé section of the sale will be two Fabergé Silver and Bowenite Table Lamps by Julius Rappoport, dated 1899-1908. These lamps, originally intended and almost certainly sold by Fabergé as a pair with the same scratched inventory numbers, are reunited here after having been separated early in their history. One of them remained in a private European collection, where it was passed down through generations with the original silver fittings preserved. The other once belonged in an important American collection. Electrical systems for domestic use first appeared in St Petersburg in the 1880s; some early Fabergé electric lamps were used in the private rooms of members of the Imperial Family. Most such lamps were the work of Julius Rappoport, who specialised in making functional pieces. The two lots are estimated at £50,000-70,000 and £60,000-80,000, respectively.
Among the Icons being offered for sale is a 19th century (last quarter) icon of the Savior, which is estimated at £40,000-60,000. The work, entitled The Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, is held in a gilt-metal and enamel frame, decorated with foliate forms in the Old Russian style, and applied with colourful enamel roundels. The border of the painting is decorated with enamel motifs and pilasters. This icon is stylistically close to the icon of St. Pelagia and Saint John Klimakos attributed to Vasily Petrovich Vereschagin (1835-1909), executed for The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, circa 1879-1931.
Another highlight of the Works of Art, Fabergé and Icons sale is a Bust Portrait of Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia, by Prosper d’Épinay, dated 1836-1914. The bust represents the Empress in her full court-dress: wearing a sash, a Star of the Order of St. Catherine, a tiara imitating a Russian kokoshnik with a veil, and pearl and diamond jewellery. Commissioned by the Emperor Alexander III in 1887 at the height of d’Épinay’s popularity,two versions of the portrait are known to exist, one in plaster and one in marble. While the plaster bust is preserved by the family of the artist, the whereabouts of the marble version was unknown until now. This distinguished sculpture is estimated at £30,000-50,000.
Image: Ilya Efimovich Repin, Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Vera Repin, signed in Cyrillic and dated 1878 l.l. Oil on canvas, 101.5 by 82.5cm, 40 by 32 1/2 in. Estimate: 1,000,000 – 1,500,000 GBP. Photo: Sotheby’s
*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium.