A wonderful icon by Nesterov – The Saviour Not Made by Hands, based on designs for a mural on the western façade of the church – leads Bonhams’ Russian sale in London on Wednesday 25th November. It is estimated at £80,00-100,000.

When Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, sister of Alexandra, last Tsarina of Russia, lost her husband Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich to assassination in 1905, she renounced her wealth and privilege and turned to good works. In 1907 she founded the Marfo-Mariinsky (Martha-Mary) Convent of Mercy in Moscow, as a recovery home for wounded soldiers, and to provide shelter for the sick and poor. The convent’s Church of the Intercession of the Virgin is famous for its fine mosaics by the celebrated painter Mikhail Nesterov, who often made smaller versions of his designs, on commission or as gifts to friends.

The Saviour Not Made by Hands by Mikhail Nesterov. Estimate: £80,000-100,000

Writing in the sale catalogue Dr Pavel Klimov, author of the catalogue raisonné on Nesterov said: “The complex mosaics, icons and wall paintings of the Martha and Mary Convent became his highest achievement in the arena of monumental art, as recognised by both the artist himself and by scholars. In the face of the Saviour, Nesterov combines a severity of style with a restrained expression, replete with tragedy.”

Other highlights of the sale include:

  • The standard with the Mandylion kept in the Armoury of the Moscow Kremlin: a preparatory study from The Conquest of Siberia by Yermak(1895) by Vasili Ivanovich Surikov (1848-1916). A master of monumental historical painting, Surikov prepared each work painstakingly, carrying out detailed research and making numerous sketches. This preparatory sketch for The Conquest of Siberia by Yermak was once owned by Tsar Nicholas II and depicts the decisive battle between Yermak’s Cossack detachment and the forces of the Siberian Khan Kuchum in 1582. Estimate: £60,000-70,000.
  • Still life with fish and flowersby Mikhail Fedorovich Larionov (1881-1964). Dating from 1909, the work anticipates the artist’s move away from the influence of the French Impressionists towards the development of a new language known as Russian Neo-Primitivism. Estimate: £60,000-80,000.
  • A fine belle époque jewelled silver-gilt, platinum and gold mounted nephrite clock by Fabergé 1908-1917, with the firm’s London marks and essay’s marks for London. It is believed that the clock was at one time in the private apartments of the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna at the Alexander Palace at the Tsarskoe Selo. Estimate: £60,000-80,000.
  • An important and elaborate silver-gilt and enamel tea and coffee service, by Pavel Ovchinnikov made under Imperial Warrant, Moscow, 1908-1917. The set was once owned by Ahmet Muhtar Mollaoğlu who was appointed as Ambassador of the new Republic of Turkey to the Soviet Union and was stationed in Moscow in 1923-1924. It was during those two years that the present lot was most likely acquired.
  • Horizon by Ernst Neizvestny (1926-2016). Estimate: £20,000-30,000.

Head of Bonhams Russian Department, Daria Khristova said: “The Saviour Not Made by Hands is a major work by one of Russia’s most revered artists. It leads a strong sale that reflects the breadth and depth of Russian art in all its manifestations, from an important and intriguing sketch by Surikov to a majestic Fabergé clock.”

Mikhail Nesterov (1862-1942) was a major figure in the Russian Symbolist movement, best known for his religious works many of which took many years if not decades to complete. After the Russian Revolution, when public religious imagery was forbidden, Nesterov developed a successful career as a portrait painter.