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Sotheby's To Hold Inaugural Evening Sale of Russian Art
Still life with Tray by Liubov Sergeevna Popova (1889-1924), Estimate: £1.5-2 million. © Sotheby's Images.

LONDON.- 2007 has been an exceptional and landmark year in Sotheby’s history both for its Russian department and its Russian business. In February, Sotheby’s broke new ground when it launched the hugely successful Modern and Contemporary Russian Art Sale (the first of its kind in Still life with Tray by Liubov Sergeevna Popova (1889-1924) Estimate: £1.5-2 million London), which set 22 artist’s records and realised £2.6 million - £500,000 more than its pre-sale high estimate – and in May became the first international auction house to open an office in Russia. This has enabled Sotheby’s to exhibit highlights from its New York and London sales of Russian, Impressionist and International Contemporary Art in Moscow. This year also saw the Rostropovich-Vishnevskaya Collection of Russian Art return to Russia, when it was acquired in its entirety prior to its auction at Sotheby’s, by the prominent businessman Alisher Usmanov.

Continuing to demonstrate the Company’s commitment to its Russian business and the field of Russian Art, Sotheby’s will now hold its first ever Evening Sale of Russian Art on Monday, November 26, 2007. Sotheby’s decision to hold such a sale comes in the wake of more than three years of exponential growth in this progressive market, which has seen global sales totals of Russian Art at Sotheby’s increase 20-fold over the past five years (from $8 million in 2000 to $153 million in 2006). The tightly curated Evening Sale comprises 57 lots of rare and important Russian Paintings and Works of Art by Russia’s most renowned artists and skilled workmasters and is estimated to realise in excess of £16 million ($32 million). Combined with the Day Sale of Russian Pictures, Works of Art and Fabergé which will take place the following day, Sotheby’s Winter Season of Russian Art Sales is estimated to raise more than £25 million ($50 million).

Commenting on Sotheby’s response to this rapidly evolving market, Jo Vickery, Senior Director and Head of Sotheby’s Russian Art Department in London, said: “2007 has been a truly phenomenal year for Sotheby’s Russian Art department, and for me personally it has been one of the most exciting and rewarding years of my career at the Company. It was a huge privilege to have handled the Rostropovich-Vishnevskaya Collection of Russian Art and I am thrilled that the collection is returning to Russia. The steps that the Company has taken this year demonstrate Sotheby’s commitment to its Russian clients and their needs, and I am delighted that we are able to respond to this thriving market and increasingly important part of Sotheby’s business by adding an Evening Sale of Russian Art to the London sales calendar.”

Evening Sale - Still life with Tray is undoubtedly the most important highlight in Sotheby’s inaugural Evening Sale of Russian Art. The work, which is one of the finest compositions by Liubov Sergeevna Popova, (1889-1924) to remain in private hands, is estimated at £1.5-2 million. The rediscovery of this mixed media and collage on canvas, which has come from an important private American collection and was once in the collection of Yakov Evseevich Rubenshtein, constitutes a major contribution to scholarly appreciation of the artist's early oeuvre.

Modern Western European art’s impact on the Russian avant-garde can be seen in many stylistic innovations, among them Cubo-Futurism - a hybrid that combines the static nature and disintegration of the object of Cubism with the dynamism of Futurism. Virtually all the leading artists of the Russian avant-garde passed through a ‘Cubo-Futurist phase’, including Liubov Popova, whose masterpiece Still Life with Tray is among the high points of her Cubo-Futurist period (1913–16). She studied French Cubism in Paris under Henri Le Fauconnier and Jean Metzinger at La Palette in 1912–13 and was also drawn to Italian Futurism during her stay in Italy in 1914. Popova’s interpretation of these art movements was specifically Russian. The Russian tray seen in this still life is included both as a symbol of Russian life and as a device for enhancing the decorative quality of the composition, while the word Chai (Tea) evokes the traditional Russian custom of tea drinking.

The sale also includes a group of works from the Schreiber Family Collection, which is one of the finest of modern and avant-garde Russian art assembled in the United States. The collection was assembled over the course of some 35 years, and through the Schreibers’ generosity, has been shared with scholars and the public through museum exhibitions and loans of other individual pieces. The couple first purchase in the field of Russian art was when they were on their way downtown to attend an off-Broadway play. They saw Goncharova’s magnificent Bluebells (also known as La Jardinière;) at the Leonard Hutton Gallery and decided to buy it on the spot. Mrs. Schreiber realised that in order to “do it right,” a collection in this area would entail a major commitment of time and effort. The Schreibers decided that they would sell their collection of American art, which at the time included works by Robert Henri and Milton Avery, and to devote themselves to Russian avant-garde art instead. Natalia Sergeevna Goncharova’s (1881-1962) oil on canvas Bluebells is estimated at £3-5 million and is the highest value lot in the sale. Another important work from their collection to be offered for sale is Le Bois en Automne by Vladimir Davidovich Baranov-Rossiné (1888-1944), which is estimated at £300,000-500,000.

Konstantin Alexeevich Korovin’s (1861-1939) canvas On The Veranda, dated 1921, is also one of the top lots in the sale. The work is an outstanding example of Korovin's creative output during his last years in Russia, prior to his emigration to France in 1923, and continues the tradition of Korovin's famous Gurzuf series, begun in the early 1910s. Lit by bright sunshine and full of colour, these works were painted en plein air, as befits the impressionist principles, in the surroundings of the artist's family dacha on the Crimean coast. Executed in a manner similar to that of a quick sketch, On the Veranda is the artist's unique take on Impressionism. The work is estimated at £400,000-600,000.

Also included for sale are fine works by Russia’s most famous marine artist, Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky (1817-1900). The Wrath Of The Seas has come from an important private German collection and was once in the collection of a Princely German family, until it was acquired by the current owner in the 1940s. The oil on canvas was executed in 1886 and although Aivazovsky was in his 60s by that time, he held no less than 34 individual exhibitions from 1880 to 1888, and with this picture proves that he had lost none of his skill in depicting the fragility and transience of humanity. Given that Aivazovsky and J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) painted Romantic seascapes and even met early on in the Russian artist's career, it is inevitable that their work should be compared. Like Turner, Aivazovsky infused topography with a narrative expressiveness through unusual and dramatic light effects; both worked from memory rather than from nature, so that the balance of imagination and reality was always a precarious one. The Wrath Of The Seas is estimated at £400,000- 600,000. A second important work in the sale by Aivazovsky is his 1872 oil on canvas Ice on the Dniepr - the work has come from a private American collection and is estimated at £150,000-200,000.

From the Everyday Life of the Russian Boyar in the late XVII Century belongs to Konstantin Egorovich Makovsky's (1839-1915) early period, which is renowned for its large historical canvasses. This painting is one of the artist's first treatments of the Boyar theme and depicts the ritual kiss - a ceremony

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