Accusations of self-indulgence having been swatted aside, we emerge, blinking, into Russian Art Week for the Unvaccinated.
William MacDougall, underneath whose cuddly-bear exterior lurks a man of keen humour, has actually managed to find a Levitsky of Catherine the Great and a buyer, in the shape of Big Bad Boy is out there – Katya has him on speed dial. Sold with the lot is a letter from the sitter. I’m not sure Catherine ever sat, she splayed, decorously, but the letter is about, wait for it, getting vaccinated.
“You no vaccinate, you is screwed”, is the gist of the letter. Catherine the Great Seer! A prophetess! The Greta the Goblin of her Age! Hardly part of the #mybodymychoice brigade but then, with a body like Catherine the Great, you’re hardly the poster boy(ess) for a PR campaign, are you? MacDougall’s are holding their previews in Russia, owing to the latest attempt of mankind to ‘find a way’, but the sale will be in London. They have also unearthed another portrait and letter combo, Yan Kuznetsky’s (no, I’ve never heard of him either) portrait of Peter the Great together with a copy of the Russo-Prussian Treaty, signed by ya man, of 1714. A slice of history with walnut and 100’s & 1,000’s topping.
Such historical portraits, especially by well-known artists, are rare enough but then discoveries in our wacky world are becoming increasingly so and this week’s RAW has too few to name. Well done those two super sleuths, Bill and Kat, who have also located an excellent Vladimir Makovsky, by far the most interesting artist of that family, and a work of museum quality. One cannot help but occasionally enjoy these great slabs of Wanderers history though a fondness for manic depression must be a motivating factor in any purchase.
Emotions, and their public display of, are all the rage at the moment and we at RAW are sensitive to the public mood. Sentimentality is therefore at a premium this autumn 2021 because, dammit, RAW has been sorely missed and rumour has it that there may even be living visitors to live events. Hang on, I thought we were all dead? I can report that Mark Poltimore will no longer be a figment of febrile imaginations, he’ll be live on stage before your naked, steaming ears. The winner of the MCA, most charming auctioneer, award since, what, 1832, will be wisecracking his way through no less than three Sotheby’s sales. What more incentive do you need to cast off mask and come! Joy unbounded!
The cut and thrust of the auctions, the influx of Rooskies to London, the exchange of oh-so-lightly held opinions and the chance to see loved ones and, for that matter, ones to whom I would not hand over my last piroshki, it’s all in the air again. The advantage of print is that, for all their somewhat dubious business practices, and don’t let anyone kid you that dealing with Russians is as easy as dealing with their European counterparts, I can publicly state that I have missed my Russian friends very, very much. Whilst certain of them have dodged the porous borders out East to enter my warm embrace, there are others whom I haven’t seen in zonks, and, well, I’ve missed you.
However, as I sit here in the presence Bad Company, the rockmeisters, not the sense of ennui, thoughts turn desperate. We must move with the times. We have been stuck in a slough of pedantry and regression in these exciting, progressive times for too long. For all the excitement of Russian Art Week – RAW in its visceral brilliance, a meteorite thrusting into London Town bi-annually, accompanied by the finest publication this side of GQ, that was the week that always was – we must seek a more worthy goal.
60’s-rated dittos aside, we at Russian Art Week hereby announce that we are proud to support local pressure groups and will now show a greater sympathy with the oppressed. For example, auction houses are, quite clearly, feminine and custodial sentences are available to those who don’t agree. For example:
Q: When is the next Russian Sale at Sotheby’s?
A: I don’t know, she hasn’t told me.
Q: Isn’t Macdougall’s sale good?
A: Indeed. She must be so proud of herself.
Q: Did you know that Nesterov wasn’t just a crap artist, he was a man too?
A: There is no such thing as gender! His beard is a toxic, male illusion/allusion! Die M…………r!!!
We at Russian Art and Culture take our position as cultural leaders very seriously. Despite our apolitical stance we support the position of women in the workplace, sports field, in all parts of society, especially the auction room. Man, a noun too often associated with Russian Art, is gone. How sad to report that the London Russian Art Auctions for Autumn 2021 just howl, indiscriminately so, ‘Man!’ Horrid, creepy men with, to quote Jack Lemmon, eight hands.
Bonhams kick off this disgraceful dsiplay of masculinity with a Portrait of Old Mutton-Chops and closet all-in wrestler, Nikolai I, whilst Chekhonin’s Portrait of noted Club Bore Leo Tolstoy at Christies possesses something never before seen in world art – a canvas consisting of 30% beard. Whisper it quietly, it’s a white beard in a winter landscape. Chekhonin prefigures Malevich! Suprematist Beard on a White Background! Bravo! Think of the shading possibilities! Likewise, the portrait of the officer by Serov at Bonhams. What is it with shrubbery and the late 19th century? Every cavalry officer in Charlemagne’s picture at the same location is tached-up and only Rafalovich, lot 34 at Christies, gillettes it.
I am well aware that primaeval mores have changed a bit since then but come on, and please forgive the use of the soubriquet, ‘guys’! I mean who the hell is going to fall with someone whose visage is surrounded by foliage? Altman’s ‘Portrait of an (unshaven) Student’ from 1908 at Christies, one of the best works on paper at the auction houses, is another case in point. Pop him in a tutu, cover him in mascara, christen him ‘Lily’ and he’s still not going to pass as a woman.
‘Men!’ They’re all over the bloody place. Begone patriarchy!
Our friends at Brunn Rasmussen have, thankfully, grasped the nettle of toxic masculinity and proudly announce that the work of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrova is, ‘Theme: Female Artists’. No? Are you for real? Duchess? Olga? Alexandrova? Tony Hancock, back in the day when British comedy was not an oxymoron, asked Sid James if there was, ‘anything he wouldn’t do for money?’ ‘No’, came the answer and, thus, my little judges and judgettes, I rest my case. This lot is also subject to Artist’s Royalty – one of the most crushing ironies since the last ‘joke’ by Michael Mcintyre.
I too have learnt. Self-indulgent blubbering and mealy-mouthed apologies now being de rigeur, I hereby prostrate myself on the Altar of Insincerity for lot 72 at Millon, Paris, run by charming Frenchie (no oxymoron), Max Charron (miss an ‘r’ and we are deep underground) is a first, a Humble Pie special – a Kharlamov that does not make you want to reach for the sick bag. It’s a pastel, which may help, but it is also a titanic artistic achievement compared to two portraits by Sychkov at Bonhams. Soupy is an adjective, perhaps, known to few, but Lot 18 is a borschch/shchi/solyanka combo. ‘Girl with Beads’, makes Brother Kharlamov look like an astute social commentator.
Lot 43 at Christies, despite a provenance that would have me reaching for the smelling salts, is another fine work on paper and, remarkably, of a ‘girl’ with flowers. It has an absolutely whopping estimate but I struggle to think of more representative piece of Soviet Art of the 1930’s.
Right, back to men, a poison that inflicts Russian landscape.
Bonhams have a plethora. All by men and all in the, ‘seen one, seen them all’ category. Yuon, you on? Bilyantisky, Ostroukhov, Choultse et. al. queue for recognition but are outbid by a small group by well-known slave owner, Ivan Petrovichev which, I have to be honest, aren’t bad. Macdougall’s too, have a fine landscape of Venice by Mordvinov that looks like a bargain when placed against the plethora of Aiva-bloody-zovskys. Mordvinov, which translates roughly as, ‘Boat of Grapes’ (that’s cockney-rhyming slang my little Slavic supermen and women) is a surname I would just lurve to have.
There is a whole bundle of landscape gems at Sotheby’s that pretty much wipe the floor of the others. Oops! Unnecessary reference to work! Leo Tolstoy Time-out! Confession! We pay someone to do this at home though she is a refugee from Buryatian Ethnic Cleansing. Is that slavery?
Let us begin, because we have to, with Sotheby’s array of landscapes.
Kisielev, the Georgian Highway, leads the way. Following close behind is Savrasov’s Barge Haulers, Pokhitonov’s small, but exquisitely formed works, not to mention the godforsaken Aivasovsky, with apologies to friend, scholar and Arsenal nut. All these works scream ‘quality’ but are dwarfed by a couple of lots of which Marie Vassiliev’s, ‘Lady with a Black Fan’ hits all the right notes – all futurist curves and colours, a masterpiece. Only other painting of the period of comparable quality by a so-called ‘leftist’ artist? The Larionov of Flowers on a Veranda at Macdougall’s. Early, painted in 1908, vibrant, almost crude it is a well-documented and brilliant addition to their sale.
Two lots later is, ‘The Premium Lot’, as Sotheby’s have shamelessly named Petrov Vodkin’s, ‘Still Life with Apples’. Oh, come on, couldn’t we work it out for ourselves? It’s the best lot at the sales by seventy-two thousand vyorsts and you still feel the need to point it out! I often wonder why we are now treated as congenitally-moronic sheep by the powers that be……..could it possibly be that we are CMS? Loving those anacronyms, KPV is one of those artists of whom the West knows nothing and this is a crying shame. Colour, twisted perspective and sheer confidence make this one of those artists whose work rises miles above the banal. This lot should fly to £5million or my name isn’t FMCSOWS – ‘Former Middle Class Slave-Owning White Suprematist’.
Bargain of the sale, Lot 129. Benois’ ‘A Landlord’s Morning’. If Christies are selling ‘Before the Hunt’ by the same artist for £80,000 then how come this baby, which only has the ‘disadvantage’ of having been drawn later, comes in with a £5-7,000 estimate? I never did know what I was talking about.
I failed, in my diatribe against men, to remember to you good people a portrait of Gloria Swanson in her role as Beau from Toy Story at Christie’s. Gloria Swanson, for those of you, most of you to be precise, who think Soviet Cinema superior to decadent Western, let me point you in to way of the Billy Wilder (he of ‘v dzhaze tol’ko devushki’ fame) masterpiece, ‘Sunset Boulevard’.
It’s quite good.
Sworders, I kid you not, are new to our mayhem. Selling off the collection of Iconastas, a shop that graced the Burlington Arcade emporium run by the ever-charming Chris Martin, they have a genuinely impressive array of icons, porcelain, furniture and the like. Two porcelain figures by Chaikov are great slabs of Sovietica and, unlike much of the rest of RAW are in the ‘quirky and collectible’ category. Do not ignore this sale.
Sotheby’s auction of non-conformist art is pretty damn fine. 87 lots with very few duds and all from the so-called ‘collectible’ period of an artist’s, pretentious moi, oeuvre. Lot 305 by Oleg Tselkov is great. It’s a steal at £20k, 1968, all the bells and whistles, likewise two early works by Rabin. I’m sorry, early Rabin is visceral, powerful, he’s living in the Soviet bloody Union FFS and his art reflects that, whereas late Rabin is just monotonous. Lot 316 ‘Sky/Sea’, by Erik Bulatov, the great undervalued, is marvellous even if I do prefer the earlier, ‘Urban painting’, lot 321, it’s just more laconic. ‘One more glance at the Black Sea’, though clearly unacceptably sexist, is the best Fabisovich to hit the market in zonks, God it’s so unfair that I am so poor, Kracking Krasnopevtsevs, Pompeian Plavinskys, Steamy Sveshnikovs, and Khoroshy Kharitonovs – a veritable panoply of top, top non-Conformists, surely still one of the most undervalued markets in history. It’s almost churlish to add that Kabakov’s entire series of works on paper ‘The Flying Komarovs’ is also available. This sale, the last few lots excepted, is up there with the Ba-Gera – inspiration for Black Panthers, may their name be praised, the world over.
Macdougall’s too, in the style for which they have become famous, have also unearthed some great non-conformist pieces. Early Tselkov really is better than the leter work and Macky D’s have one together with one of the best Kharitonov works to hit the market.
To sign off, let me apologise, I couldn’t sum up the enthusiasm to write anything amusing, or rather something that two readers find amusing. Call it my inner risk-aversion meter because, however much I may deny, fight and struggle with my slave-owner past and the Titans of Fate, I cannot escape my destiny, my calling, nor my sex because, to quote the aforementioned flick:
‘Dammit Oswald, I’m a man’.