Bonhams Offers Two Paintings by Russian Painter Vasili Polenov

Two rare works by the celebrated Russian artist Vasili Polenov are amongst the highlights of the Russian sale taking place on the 30th November at Bonhams, New Bond Street.

Considered masterpieces of the golden age of 19th century Russian painting, the two works entitled “He that is Without Sin” (est. £1.2 – 1.8million) and “He is Guilty of Death” (est. £600,000 – 800,000) are new to the market and have never been seen at auction before.

Both works are part of a monumental series consisting of sixty paintings titled “Life of Christ.” Completed over two decades, the series was exhibited in its entirety only once in 1909 in Russia. The exhibition was then offered the chance to exhibit in America and was reputedly scheduled to cross the Atlantic aboard the ill-fated Titanic. Due to a shipment delay, the series avoided the disastrous journey but it could not avoid being dispersed between various Russian art museums.

Evgenia Teslyuk, Head of the Russian department in London comments “We are delighted to offer these two wonderful works by Polenov in our Russian sale in London. Technically brilliant and emotionally intense, these two works represent the artist at his best. Polenov is one of the best-loved artists in Russia and his religious paintings in particular have a very special, intimate resonance. It gives us immense pleasure to bring these two works back into the public domain after an absence of more than 80 years.”

In 1924, the two works were among 13 chosen to represent Polenov’s accomplishments at the highly-publicised Russian art exhibits at the Grand Central Palace exhibition in New York. They were then acquired by Charles R. Crane, an industrialist, philanthropist, diplomat and Russian art patron, who believed strongly in the cultural and intellectual exchange between nations. Passionate about his mission, Mr. Crane donated the two paintings to a North American institution, where they have remained for more than 80 years.

The first of the two paintings entitled “He That is Without Sin,” (in reference to St. John, 8:7) is a version of Polenov’s earlier large-scale work with the same title that is now in the collection of the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. The present work depicts a woman awaiting Christ’s judgment for her sin of adultery. Instead of passing a judgment, Christ suggests that those in the crowd “who are without sin, to throw the first stone.” This message of humanism, forgiveness and love is quintessential to the work of Vasili Polenov and is one that he repeatedly returned to by re-working this scene compositionally and artistically.

The second painting, entitled “He is Guilty of Death” (in reference to St. Matthew, 26:66), depicts Christ before the Great Sanhedrin, Supreme Court of Ancient Israel, after his arrest at the Garden of Gethsemane. The lonely and introspective image of Christ is in direct contrast to his hostile and aggressive surroundings, particularly the judges who ultimately would determine his fate.

Yelena Harbick, Director of Russian Fine and Decorative Arts comments, “These are unquestionably the most important works by the artist to ever come up for auction. We anticipate that their unparalleled artistic importance, exceptional provenance and fascinating history will generate a considerable interest not only among Russian private collectors and institutional buyers, but from international collectors as well.”

The triumphant return of these paintings to public view and the art market is an event of great historical and cultural significance. A week-long preview in New York will be followed by an exhibition in Moscow, before the highly anticipated appearance in the Russian Art sale in November. Please see the dates below:

Preview at Bonhams, New York: October 2011
Preview in Moscow: October/ November 2011
Russian Art Sale, Bonhams New Bond Street: 30th November 2011

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