NEARLY 1200 LOTS will be offered over a typically hectic three days of Russian sales in London from November 26-28: around 650 pictures and sculptures (including 100 contemporary works, half of them at MacDougall’s) and over 530 works of art, including icons and Fabergé.
Sotheby’s weigh in with a total of 462 lots (not including the separately-сatalogued Rostropovich-Vishnevskaya Collection), followed by MacDougall’s (277) and Christie’s (268); Bonhams have 171. With the exception of MacDougall’s – who appear to be concentrating exclusively on Fine Art this Autumn – the other three firms are each offering more works of art than pictures. That is not always the case, and may reflect a reluctance among picture collectors to consign at what is perceived as a tricky period for the market. Only a couple of paintings are expected to clear £1m (and just one work of art). But there are literally hundreds of pictures for punters to peruse, and plenty to interest them in every price category. It may not be the best time to sell – but it is certainly a good time to buy.
Sotheby’s lead with Makovsky’s huge Blind Man’s Bluff, first exhibited at the St Petersburg Academy in 1900 and crammed with lavishly dressed characters and silverware, furniture and rugs (est. £2-3 million).
Pirosmani’s Georgian Woman wearing a Lechaki was acquired by Stefan Zweig during his trip to the USSR for the Tolstoy centenary celebrations of 1928. When he saw Pirosmani’s works in the Tretyakov, Zweig – already an admirer of Le Douanier Rousseau – was smitten, promptly declaring the enigmatic Georgian to be ‘a true discovery for Europe.’ After Zweig’s death, Georgian Woman was gifted by his first wife Friderike to Dr Harry Zohn, founder of the International Stefan Zweig Society, and later hung in the Zweig Room in Reed Library at the State University of New York – who are now selling it to raise funds (est. £500,000-700,000).
A Fechin Portrait of a Young Girl (c.1912), painted in Russia but brought by Fechin to the United States where it remained with him until his death (est. £250,000-350,000), rubs shoulders with Robert Falk’s Portrait of Inna Costakis aged 20. Inna first met Falk in 1953 at her family’s Moscow communalka. The portrait was painted in Falk’s studio two years later, and appeared in an exhibition staged by the pianist Sviatoslav Richter in his apartment in 1957, and then at the Falk exhibitions held in Moscow in 1958 and 1966. It was only acquired by Inna’s father George (from Falk’s widow) before he and his family left Russia in 1978. It was shown at the New Tretyakov’s blockbuster Costakis show in 2014/15, and has been consigned by Inna herself (est. £200,000-300,000).
Highlight at MacDougall’s should be a Game of Billiards played at Moscow’s Hotel Metropol in 1918 by Piotr Konchalovsky and a waistcoated Aristarkh Lentulov, shown lining up a shot towards the bottom-left pocket. When not chalking cues both men, at the time, were teaching at SVOMAS. This fine example of Konchalovsky at his mature, tongue-in-cheek best is expected to reach £1.5-2 million.
Other imposing canvases include Schedrin’s 1827 Moonlight over Naples an hour before dawn, the earliest of four known versions (est. £450,000-600,000), and From the Bosphorus to the Black Sea, with a Russian merchantman at anchor, by Lev Lagorio (who, like Ayvazovsky, hailed from Feodosia). The picture dates from 1886, when Lagorio was working an Imperial commission commemorating the Russo-Turkish War of 1877/8 (est. £150,000-200,000).
Korovin’s Fishing Boats – Gurzuf (1911) is a view from the artist’s 14-room seaside mansion, with the Adalar cliffs in the distance (est. £140,000-180,000). Boris Anisfeld’s large, Gauguinesque Garden of Hesperides, inspired by Greek mythology, was completed in 1916 – the year before Anisfeld emigrated to New York, where this painting was shown at the Brooklyn Museum in 1918 (est. £300,000-400,000).
Eye-pleasing works from the 1920s include Gorbatov’s snowy 1923 view of Sergiev Possad (est. £120,000-180,000) and a late Repin Portrait of the Violinist Cecilia Hansen at his Repino dacha in 1922 (est. £400,000-600,000).
There’s another Repin portrait, painted 40 years earlier, at Christie’s – a small work featuring his wife Vera Repina reading (est. £150,000-200,000). Ayvazovsky’s picturesque 1873 view across the lagoon of Venice at Sunset (est. £400,000-600,000) leads the sale’s paintings ahead of a Boris Kustodiev reclining topless Model from 1919 (£250,000-350,000) and a pair of 1922 works by Vasily Shukhayev: a Self-Portrait in Grey Smock, and a less arresting Portrait of Vera Shukhayeva, his wife (est. £300,000-500,000).
The top three paintings at Bonhams are all separate consignments from the United States: a small 1872 Ayvazovsky Shipwreck on a Rocky Shore, acquired by a Connecticut tobacco tycoon around 1880 (est. £150,000-200,000); Rozhdestvensky’s Cézannesque 1921 Still Life with Clay Jug (est. £150,000-200,000); and Fechin’s undated, messily energetic Trees By Water (est. £100,000-150,000).
No contemporary works are expected to clear £100,000 this November. The costliest, in estimate terms, is a 2000 version of Ilya Kabakov’s Who Hammered In This Nail? at MacDougall’s, inscribed авторская копия картины 1970 года on the back (est. £60,000-90,000).
Other MacDougall’s highlights include a snow-dappled, golden-domed Sitnikov Monastery, painted shortly before his death in 1987 (est. £40,000-60,000), and a 1977 Plavinsky triptych, Old Russian Manuscript (est. £20,000-3000).
Christie’s lead with Tselkov’s 1987 Woman with Candle (est. £50,000-70,000), followed by Nemukhin’s 1989 Netto Brutto (est. £30,000-50,000).
The same £30,000-50,000 estimate applies at Sotheby’s to both Grisha Bruskin’s 1982 Monuments and Weisberg’s 1963 Portrait of Vishnyakova – thought to be the wife of the poet Vladimir Vishnyakov (who had posed for Weisberg in 1961).
Stand-out work at Bonhams is Valery Koshlyakov’s 1999 Gothic II, a view of a soaring cathedral nave (Amiens?) with silver birch trees whimsically replacing some of the pillars (est. £8000-12,000).
Several post-war artists feature in more than one sale – notably Shablavin, Krasnopevtsev, Steinberg, Rabin, Nesterova, Zverev, Yakovlev and Vladimir Ovchinnikov.
WORKS OF ART
As so often, Imperial Porcelain holds sway at Christie’s, led by a monumental, gilt and royal blue 5-foot Nikolai I campana vase from 1836, painted with an equestrian portrait of Austrian Emperor Franz I by A. Nesterov after Johann Peter Krafft. The vase was reputedly acquired by a well-paid Spanish dancer in the Imperial Ballet before the 1917 Revolution, and sold to its current consignors in Franco’s Spain (est. £800,000-1.2m).
A pair of 1828 Imperial Porcelain amphora vases just half the size come with half the estimate (£400,000-600,000). They are painted by Golov with Troops at Rest and A Battle Between Turkish & Austrian Troops after Philips Wouwerman.
It looks like being a leanish few days for Fabergé aficionados, but Christie’s have a splendidly quirky kovsh (Moscow 1908-17) that incorporates a ceramic duck with green and light-blue glaze, decorated with cast and chased silver neo-Russian mounts. The head is embellished with stylized silver feathers; the breast is set with a cabochon sapphire and the eyes with cabochon garnets (est. €50,000-70,000).
Several of the major items at Bonhams come with a prestigious provenance. Their gold and enamel Fabergé kovsh by Michael Perchin (1896) was presented to Victor Albert, 3rd Baron Churchill (1864-1934), by Tsar Nikolai II at Balmoral on 3 October 1896, and has been consigned from the estate of the late 3rd Viscount Churchill (est. £70,000-90,000). Its oval agate bowl is mounted with diamond-set gold handles enriched with champlevé black stripes, terminating in a diamond and ruby-set Imperial eagle.
A St Petersburg Imperial Porcelain Deep River vase, painted with a spring landscape, was made for the Anichkov Palace (home to Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna) in 1910. It became State property after Revolution, then was deaccessioned and sold off in 1928 (est. £40,000-60,000).
A silver-gilt and cloisonné enamel kovsh by Ivan Saltykov (Moscow 1899-1908), retaining the stamp of the celebrated Kurlyukov store just off Red Square, was presented by Vyacheslav Molotov to British Ambassador Sir Archibald Kerr in 1944 (est. £35,000-45,000).
A silver-gilt and enamel oval calling-card tray attributed to Rückert (Moscow c.1900), with scrolled handles topped by chrysoprase cabochons, comes with an enamel reproduction of Makovsky’s celebrated 1883 Boyar Wedding Feast – now in the Hillwood Museum, Washington D.C. – in shaded and painted enamel (est. £200,000-300,000).
The same Boyar Wedding embellishes the lid of a silver-gilt and enamel Rückert jewelled casket (est. £150,000-200,000) at a Sotheby’s sale whose chronological range extends from a late 17th century silver-gilt and cloisonné enamel wooden saddle from the Kremlin workshops (est. £25,000-35,000) to two Imperial Porcelain plates with 1920s designs by Alexandra Shekatikhina-Pototskaya (each expected to bring £12,000-18,000).
Leading icon at Sotheby’s is Rückert’s silver-gilt and cloisonné enamel Virgin Entering the Temple (Moscow 1899-1908), a modestly sized 32 x 28cm (est. £70,000 -90,000).
Sotheby’s sale of items once owned by Slava Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya features more enamels – made in Solvychegodsk (between Volgoda and Arkhangelsk) in the 16th-18th centuries, originally by craftsmen fleeing Novgorod after it was put to the sword by Ivan the Terrible in 1570. Solvychegodsk enamels are made of copper rather than silver, with coloured pigments applied on a white enamelled background, and are traditionally decorated with floral motifs and Bible scenes in vivid green, yellow or blue. A fine example here is a late 17th century enamelled silver-bowl decorated with animals and scrolling foliage which, like most of the Solvychegodsk items on offer, enjoys an enticingly conservative estimate of £1500-2000.
Another splendid piece, also from the late 17th century, is an enamel casket of teremok form with flower and bird decor, made in Veliky Ustyug, 50 miles south of Solvychegodsk (est. £6,000-8,000).
Pick of a series of kovshi is large, parcel-gilt vessel dated 1703, chased with the double-headed Imperial eagle enclosing a portrait of Peter the Great. A Cyrillic inscription reveals it was gifted from the Tsar to Peter Rodionov, citizen of Ustyug and son of Khudakov, for services in tax collection (est. £30,000-50,000).
The main Rostropovich-Vishnevskaya Collection was bought from Sotheby’s in 2007 for a reported £35 million by Alisher Usmanov for the Constantine Palace in Strelna, just outside St Petersburg. This November’s Rostropovich sale contains no stellar artworks, but does have three superlative 18th century cellos once owned by the great man: one made in Turin by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini in 1783, with intense red-brown varnish (est. £1-1.5 million); one made by Santo Serafin in Venice around 1741 (est. 500,000-700,000); and one made by Giovanni Guidanti in Bologna in 1743 (est.200,000-300,000).
THE MAREVNA STUDIO
Meanwhile, on December 5, Roseberys in West Norwood are to offer over 300 works by Marie Vorobieff (1892-1984), better known as Marevna: a budding if not quite frontline Cubo-Pointillist in Belle Epoque Paris, who lived in Dorset and Ealing after World War II. The works hail from the estate of her English grandson David Phillips (whose boyhood portrait by Marevna is on offer at Bonhams with an estimate of £2500-3500).
Born Maria Bronislavovna Stebelskaya in Cheboksary on the Volga in 1892, the illegitimate daughter of Polish nobleman Bronisław Stebelski and Jewish actress Maria Vorobyova, ‘Marevna’ owned her ‘sea princess’ nickname to a flirtatious Maxim Gorky, whom she met on Capri in 1911 after a childhood spent mainly in Tbilisi. She moved to Paris in 1912, where she frequented La Ruche and had an affair with Diego Rivera. Their daughter Marika – David Phillips’ mother – was born in 1919.
Marevna had difficulty selling her later works until they caught the eye of the great collector Oscar Ghez (1905-98) and went on show at the (now defunct) Musée du Petit Palais he opened in Geneva in 1968. Her strongest work in the Roseberys sale is a surrealistic 1918 watercolour/gouache entitled La Guerre et l’Amour (est. £2,000-3,000). Paris sketches featuring Rivera, Soutine, Chagall, Modigliani, Stravinsky and llya Ehrenburg are touted for as little as £100-200.
DENMARK’S IMPERIAL SPARKLE
On November 30 in Copenhagen, Bruun Rasmussen toast their 70th anniversary with a sapphire tiara presented by Tsar Nikolai II to the future Queen Alexandrine of Denmark at her wedding in 1898, and consigned by her great-granddaughters. The tiara, by Bolin of St Petersburg, is adorned with eight oval-cut Ceylon sapphires and single-cut diamonds and, in the opinion of the firm’s Russian specialist Martin Hans Borg, is the ‘most interesting Russian objet d’art Bruun Rasmussen have ever handled’ (est. €200,000-270,000).
Two Maliavin paintings at the sale – Peasants Dancing (est. €55,000-80,000) and Woman with Horse-Drawn Plough (est. €25,000-35,000) – also have an imperial connection: both are believed to have featured in the 150-work Maliavin solo show held in Copenhagen in 1934 under the auspices of Nikolai II’s sister Grand Duchess Olga (1882-1960). Both Olga and Maliavin had studied under Konstantin Makovsky’s younger brother, Vladimir, in pre-war St Petersburg.