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Sotheby's Exhibition in Moscow Highlights Rare Russian Paintings and Artworks
A visitor eyes the painting of Ilya Repin 'Portrait of Vera Repina, the Artist's Wife. 1878' during an exhibition focused on the Sotheby's Masterpieces of Russian Painting, at the State Historical Museum, Moscow, Russia. Sotheby's Masterpieces of Russian Painting Art Evening Sale will take place in London on 06 June 2011. EPA/MAXIM SHIPENKOV.

LONDON.- Sotheby's is exhibiting highlights from its forthcoming June Sales in London of Russian Art, and Important Czech Art from the Hascoe Family Collection, at the State Historical museum on Red Square in Moscow through Friday, May 20th, 2011. The exhibition features 24 important and rare paintings by some of Russia’s preeminent artists from the 19th century to the present, including Vasily Vasilievich Vereschagin, Alexander Evgenievich Yakovlev, Ilya Efimovich Repin and Erik Bulatov, as well as two artworks by František Kupka from the Hascoe Collection of Czech Modern Art, a collection that offers a remarkably complete survey of Czech painting and sculpture of the first half of the 20th century.

Russian Art Sales Series in London, June 2011
Sotheby’s forthcoming Russian Art Sales series in London will take place on June 6, 7 and 8, 2011. Highlighting the sale will be Ilya Efimovich Repin’s (1844-1930) oil on canvas Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Vera Repin, dated 1878, which is widely considered one of the finest portraits of the artist’s career. Repin first met Vera Shevtsova (1855-1918) when she was only nine years old, and she inspired some of Repin’s most admired watercolour and pencil portraits. This particular portrait remained in Vera’s collection, hanging in her flat on Karpovka until she died, at which point it was sold by her daughter.

Vera fell in love with Repin while she was still a student at the Mariinsky Institute. She was only 16 years old when they were married in 1872, and Repin was ten years her senior. Though no match for him intellectually, she was a sympathetic and appealing character, simple and childlike in her needs. Their relationship became stormy, and nine years after the present work was painted the couple separated; they reunited in 1894 but the marriage finally fell apart in 1900. The present masterpiece dates from a less troubled period of their lives and remains the only known, published portrait of Vera Repin to exist outside museum collections. Since it is, above all, his portraiture that has earned Repin international fame as one of the greatest Western European practitioners of this genre, the reemergence of an intimate family portrait from this period is a major event for all collectors and scholars of his work. The painting is estimated at £1,000,000-1,500,000.

Further highlights in the sale include a group of outstanding paintings from renowned Russian artist Vasily Vasilievich Vereschagin (1842-1904). These museum quality artworks are fresh to the market and have not been seen publicly since the 1900s. Shipka Pass is the most impressive canvas ever to be offered at auction of Vereschagin’s Balkan series which consists of 25 paintings and 50 studies inspired by his first hand impressions of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78. Not only does the present work mark a pivotal event of Russian history, but in its restraint and minimalism, is also one of Vereshchagin’s most modern compositions. In anticipation of hostilities, moved by patriotism, and as Vereschagin simply put it, filled with ‘a great desire to see with my own eyes a regular European war,’ the artist requested to join the staff of the Russian army as a volunteer in October 1878. Vereschagin was anxious that his series of Balkan paintings should not be broken up, but although the future Tsar Alexander III and Grand Duke Nicholas both expressed an interest in acquiring them, some of the canvases were deemed too controversial and the Prussian military attaché even advised the Tsar to buy and destroy the entire series. In the event, Pavel Tretyakov purchased five of the most important works; Ivan Tereschenko, a Kiev sugar baron, acquired five of the other large canvases together with a number of studies and the remainder of the series was dispersed across the world following an auction in New York in 1891. This oil on canvas is estimated at £300,000-500,000.

On Campaign, also from Vereschagin’s Balkan series comes from an Important European Collection. The painting bears a hand-written authentication in Cyrillic by Vereschagin’s widow dated October 15, 1904, suggesting that it remained in the artist’s collection until his death in 1904, at which time his widow was forced to sell the work to pay off debts. On Campaign is an extraordinarily complex composition and perhaps the most artistically ambitious of the entire Balkan series. The painting is estimated at £400,000-600,000.

The Taj Mahal, Evening, is one of the most important works to have resulted from Vereschagin's trip to India from 1874 to 1876. The artist often approached the same monument or landscape at different times of day and from varying perspectives, trying to catch the particularities of the changing light, and he is known to have painted several versions of the Taj Mahal. A smaller view from the river in bright daylight is a highlight of the collection of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Two additional views of the Taj from the garden, in the morning and the evening, were included in the sale at the American Art Galleries in New York in 1891, when the present work was also first sold. The intensity of color in Vereschagin's Indian paintings surpassed that of his earlier works, including the Turkestan series, and astonished critics at home and abroad. The painting is estimated at £250,000-450,000.

Also on view is Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky’s (1817-1900) oil on canvas Shepherds with Their Flock at Sunset in the Crimea, dated 1859. The painting depicts grazing sheep, a theme which appears variously throughout the artist's oeuvre. Aivazovsky often depicted sheep grazing peacefully on the Crimean steppe or in Ukraine; before shearing; bathing in the Black Sea; during a rainstorm, or packed into a solid mass under the heat of the evening sun, as in the offered painting. Over the course of the 1870s and 1880s the artist returned again and again to a theme which clearly captivated him. More than ten pictures with a similar subject are known to exist and some of these paintings can now be found in museums in Omsk, Irkutsk, Odessa, Ashgabat, Ulan-Ude, and Chelyabinsk. One of these paintings—Sheep at Pasture (1850s)—is held at the Tretyakov Gallery. This museum-quality artwork is estimated at £800,000 -1,200,000.

Another highlight from the forthcoming Important Russian Art Sale is Zinaida Evgenievna Serebriakova’s (1884-1967) oil on canvas Reclining Nude. Acquired from the family of the artist by the present owner, this piece is one of the finest large-scale oils by Serebriakova ever to come to auction, and shows the artist at the height of her powers. The artwork recalls the nudes of Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet; Serebriakova had arrived in Paris in the mid-1920s and was undoubtedly influenced by these masters in her adoptive homeland. Serebriakova’s appreciation of the plasticity of the female form was extraordinary, yet from the mid-1930s, she painted increasingly fewer nudes. Several of the Russian girls in Paris who used to pose for her got married around 1934, and without the means to pay for professional models, Serebriakova simply lacked the opportunity to return to one of her favourite subjects. Reclining Nude is property from a private European collection and is estimated at £600,000-800,000.

Among the two contemporary artworks in the upcoming Russian Art auction to be previewed in Moscow will be Erik Bulatov’s (b.1933) oil on canvas Winter. The painting was completed in 1988, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, a period widely considered to be the artist’s best. The painting comes from a private collection and is estimated at £60,000-80,000.

Also featured in the preview is Alexander Evgenievich Yakolev’s (1887-1938) oil on canvas Opera in Peking, which is dated 1918. This important painting is estimated at £800-1,200,000. One of the most important works to be painted during the artist’s trip to the Far East in 1918, it underscores the artist’s belief that an appreciation of the richness of ancient Chinese civilisation was crucial in grasping the essence of modern day China. Exceptional in its daring use of perspective, Yakovlev’s powerful composition is believed to depict a scene from a 16th century play by the poet Tang, The Peony Pavilion, which subsequently became the template for the story of a perfect love.

Hascoe Family Collection of Important Czech Art, June 2011
František Kupka’s (1871-1957) oil on canvas Divertimento II is one of two paintings by the artist on view from the upcoming London sale of the Hacoe Collection of Czech Modern Art, taking place on June 13th, 2011**. Painted in 1935, Divertimento II is an expression of Kupka's love of music which he had explored in his art as early as 1909 in works such as Piano Keys: The Lake (Prague, National Gallery), and explores the inner analogy between art and the music. The title of the work, literally 'amusement', refers to a type of light-hearted musical entertainment popularized in the 18th century and played at social functions and events, and indeed the painting is an almost mesmeric rhythm of shapes, colors, and what could be read as dancing figures. The painting is estimated at £300,000-500,000.

Painted in 1946, Disque blanc marks the culmination of the development of Kupka's artistic vision as one of Europe's leading avant-garde abstract painters during the interwar period. In 1931 he became a founder member of the Abstraction-Création group in Paris. His paintings developed away from the riot of colour that had characterized his earlier work and were reduced to reds, blues, and yellows against a white background. These paintings show the influence of the Futurists and of the Purists and can be seen as a counterpart to contemporary avant-garde architecture, expressing a state of harmony and balance. Like Wassily Kandinsky, Kupka was an intellectual artist who strove for a conceptual basis for his art. He studied colour, optics, cosmology, physiology, biology, and anthropology, subjecting his studies to his aesthetic concerns. Disque blanc is an exploration of the separation and interaction of colour, of the relationship between the earth and the stars, the dominant orange disc evoking the sun rising or setting over a futuristic city; of the relationship between forms and shapes. This significant oil on canvas is estimated at £300,000-500,000.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium.

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May 20, 2011

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