London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

An Evening Sale of Russian Art at Sotheby's

21/05/2008, By

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Sotheby's London will hold its second Evening Sale of Russian Art on Monday, June 9th. The tightly curated sale comprises 58 lots of rare and important Russian Paintings by Russia's most renowned artists and is estimated to realise in excess of 18 million pounds. The Day Sale of Russian Paintings on June 10th and the Works of Art and Faberge sale on June 12th will complete Sotheby's Summer Season of Russian Art Sales, which are expected to realise in excess of 30 million pounds.

The most important highlight from Sothebyís upcoming sales of Russian Art is Goncharovaís still life Nature Morte aux Fruits (Image 2). The painting, which has come from a private French collection and is previously unpublished, was a gift from the artist to Guillaume Apollinaire, the French poet, writer, art critic and theorist of Cubism in 1913. Nature Morte aux Fruits is one of several still lifes that Goncharova executed in the years 1912-13, prior to her departure for Paris; including Still Life with Leg of Ham and Duck (1912), in the collection of the Russian Museum, St Petersburg and Linen (1913), which is located in the Tate Gallery, London.

Similar to both these works, this painting is unusually literal in its exploration of contemporary Cubist and Futurist theory. Apollinaire wrote the catalogue essay to her and Larionovís first joint exhibition held at the Paul Guillaume Gallery in Paris in MayĖJune 1914 and it is likely that Goncharova exhibited this work at that show as an unnamed still life.

Another important painting in the exhibition, also from a private French collection and by Natalia Goncharova, is the artistís Still Life with Red Flowers and Peaches (Image 1). It is a major work from the early Russian avant-garde period and is believed to date from 1910 (although certain historians have dated it as early as 1907) and is one of Goncharovaís first still lifes in oil.

The painting is a typical still life from her earliest artistic period, when she was discovering contemporary French painting for the first time and found great inspiration in works by Gauguin, who she believed to be among those who truly understood the purpose of art. The technique which Gauguin employed in his painting Still Life with Grapefruits is evident in the offered painting; although the line is simplified, each stroke of colour plays an important role. Goncharova was also influenced by the work of the French Fauvist painters, whose use of vibrant colour is central to their art.

Painted when the artist was only 19 years old, Autumn Twilight (Image 3) is among the earliest paintings by Mikhail Larionov ever to be offered at auction. From 1898 to 1903 Larionov produced mainly sketches and studies, however full scale oil paintings from this period such as Autumn Twilight are extremely rare. The subject of this painting is characteristic of his early landscape studies and urban sketches, which is in contrast to Larionovís mature works.

Larionov played an important role in introducing French artistic movements to Russia; not only did he stage the Golden Fleece Exhibition, which brought work by Gauguin, Braque, Van Gogh and Derain among others to Moscow, but in 1909 Larionov also founded the influential group of Russian artists known as the Jack of Diamonds, who were avid followers of Cezanne. The oil on canvas, which was painted in Moscow before Larionov emigrated to France and comes from a private US collection.

Konstantin Korovinís artistic talent earned him the title of Russiaís greatest Impressionist painter and his View from the Terrace (Image 4) is a fine example of his ability. This oil on canvas, which he executed in 1912, depicts the famous Black Sea resort of Gurzuf in all its summer splendour and is thought to be the view from Korovinís Villa.

Korovin loved the early Springs in the Crimea and these were surroundings that naturally lent themselves to his impulsive Impressionist style. Fedor Chaliapin** was a regular visitor to his villa in Gurzuf and the two friends enjoyed sitting on the terrace, affectionately known as the Ďfrying paní, in the intense Crimean sun.

A further important oil on canvas in the exhibition is Konstantin Yuonís The Kremlin on the Eve of the Coronation of Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich (Image 5), which records one of the most decisive moments in Russian history, the birth of autocracy. Painted in 1913 it is clear that Yuon was influenced by the tercentenary celebrations of the Romanov dynasty. This grand historical landscape, dominated by the majestic structures of the Kremlin, depicts the coronation of Tsar Mikhail in 1613 and the beginning of the Romanov dynasty.

A Moscow native, Yuon often looked to his place of birth for inspiration, and like other members of the World of Art group he was also concerned with capturing the essence and feel of bygone days. His overall ability lay in depicting large-scale events whilst still focusing on detail and he continued to depict important historical events until late in his career. Consistent with his series of works that recorded the topography of Moscow, this oil on canvas accurately represents each structure, however here pure topography gives way to a joyous vibrant vision of a scene more reminiscent of Russian folk art.

Alla (Image 6) by Marc Chagall (1887-1985) - this rare and early work by Marc Chagall, which was painted in 1909-10 whilst he was still a student at the Elizaveta Zvantseva school in St. Petersburg, is one of only a few compositions by the artist from this period to have survived. Executed in strong, tonal colours and on the coarse-weave canvas typical of Chagallís Russian works, it is exemplary of the new confidence which belies Chagallís painting at this seminal point in his artistic development - his St Petersburg paintings are characterised by great stylistic experimentation.

Among others, Chagall was influenced by artists in the Jack of Diamonds and Izdebskii salons, including Matisse, Braque and Goncharova. After completing Alla, Chagall was to leave Russia for Paris and it was in the French capital that Apollinaire encouraged leading art dealer Herwath Walden to visit his studio. Walden offered Chagall his first solo show at Der Sturm, his gallery in Berlin, and selected Alla among the works for the exhibition. This early oil on canvas by Chagall is the first oil painting by the artist to be offered in a dedicated sale of Russian Art at Sothebyís..

Ukrainian born Alexandra Exter exhibited her pre-emigration work in Kiev, but following her emigration to Paris in 1924, the artistís style underwent a significant transformation as she abandoned the starkly cubo-futurist compositions of her years in Kiev and Moscow in favour of a more linear approach.

In her oil on canvas Woman with Birds (Image 7), which she executed in 1927-28, the two-dimensional areas of colour all belong to a tradition of distortion established by 20th-century Expressionist artists. These smooth and elongated limbs are juxtaposed with the mechanical form of the birdcage, which conversely is a distinctly 18th-century motif and appears in the work of Lancret and Boucher as a recurring symbol of the potential loss of virginity.

Vladimir Makovsky spent many summers in Ukraine during the 1880s and painted a number of works depicting the rural way of life. He approached these compositions not only from the traditionally Ďcriticalí standpoint of the Peredvizhniki (The Society for Wandering Artists) but presented both the poverty as well as the beauty of provincial life, revealing the artistís deep-seated respect for Ukrainian society, which he believed to exemplify a genuine democracy. This oil on panel, which depicts a Ukrainian girl, has come from a private collection in England.

Monday 9th June
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