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Sotheby’s Announces the Inaugural Sale of Important Russian Art in New York
Aleksey Kravchenko, Indian Fairytale, Estimate. $1/1.5 million. Photo: Sotheby’s.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s presents the inaugural sale of Important Russian Art in New York on 4 November 2010, alongside the major autumn auctions of Impressionist & Modern Art. The sale includes select works by many of the greatest names in 20th-century Russian art. Highlights from the sale will be on view in Moscow 21-23 October before returning to New York for the sale and exhibition, opening 28 October.

The Important Russian Art sale is led by Aleksey Kravchenko’s Indian Fairytale, the most important work by the artist ever to appear at auction (est. $1/1.5 million*). This iconic masterpiece definitively speaks to Kravchenko’s place in art history as one of the most dramatic and romantic painters and colorists of his time. The St. Petersburg Academy invited the artist to travel to India and Sri Lanka in 1913, an exotic one-year journey that provided a wealth of subjects and inspiration for his fantastical canvases. Indian Fairytale was completed after Kravchenko’s return from this voyage. Its vivid colors and confident brushstrokes create a mirage that is otherworldly in its beauty, and reveal the influence of Western European Modernist painters on the artist, most notably Paul Gauguin’s Panamanian and Tahitian canvases.

Alexandre Iacovleff was also greatly influenced by a unique travel opportunity provided by the St. Petersburg Academy. The artist first traveled to the Far East in 1917, instilling in him an insatiable hunger for adventure. His subsequent travels with Georges-Marie Citroën expeditions through Africa and other areas across Asia were considered unprecedented for an artist at the time, and from them he produced an impressive repertoire that crosses both geographical and artistic boundaries. Un Groupe de Lamas is a monumental work representing a group of lamas at Pei Ling Miao lamasery, which he encountered during the second of the Citroën expeditions, La Croisière Jaune in 1932 (est. $500/700,000). The work allows contemporary viewers a glimpse into a fascinating, exotic journey from a bygone era of exploration.

In addition to Un Groupe de Lamas, sale highlights from private collections include works by Konstantin Korovin and Zinaida Serebriakova. Korovin’s Flowers over the City demonstrates the artist’s mastery of the modern lyrical landscape, capturing the magical atmosphere of Paris at dusk (est. $500/700,000). The elevated sight-line introduces a powerful sense of theatricality, as the artist invites the viewer to experience the spectacle and warmth of the city. Serebriakova’s Young Girl from the Orient represents the artist’s work at the peak of her career (est. $400/600,000). Evoking the techniques of the Renaissance masters, she captures the subtle intricacies of the female body with her exceptional draughtsmanship and deftly selected palette.

The Important Russian Art sale also includes multiple works from influential artists including Nicholas Roerich, David Burliuk and Pavel Tchelitchew. Four major works from Roerich are led by New House, one of the most compelling works from his Finnish period (est. $550/650,000). Dated 1917, it is one of several provocative images the artist executed during the year of the Revolution. The tile and subject of New House embody the spirit of a time when the Russian people were attempting to rebuild their lives and their nation’s infrastructure. While one figure chops wood to construct a home, the second looks wistfully across the Karelian landscape to their former homeland.

Three works by Burliuk are led by On the Raft, a monumental, two.panel composition depicting the grand development of mankind’s artistic creativity (est. $400/600,000). Moving from right to left, Burliuk traces the evolution of human civilization through allegorical symbols. The Egyptian hieroglyphics and Roman figures of Romulus and Remus allude to early cultures. The man on the left, dressed in a toga, hands the man in the center a scroll and torch, symbols of justice and law, while a guitar and bowl of fruit lay on the raft below, symbols of music and art, respectively. The crouching woman holds an urn with a bald eagle, representing the possibility of the United States as heir to the great civilizations of the past.

Following the success of the Collection of Ruth Ford & Charles Henri Ford in Sotheby’s April 2010 Russian Art sale in New York, which set a new artist record for Pavel Tchelitchew when Portrait of Ruth Ford sold for nearly $1 million, the November Important Russian Art sale will offer seven additional works by the artist from the Collection. These works are led by Portrait of Charles Henri Ford with Pitcher, executed in 1933, two years after Ford and Tchelitchew first met in Paris (est. $150/200,000). In Portrait of Charles Henri Ford with Pitcher, he presents Ford as being brilliantly lit from within. Such treatment prefigures Tchelitchew’s later experimentations with the interaction of light, anatomy and the cosmos in his Interior Landscapes and Space Compositions of the 1940s and 50s.

A group of exquisite works from the Collection of Gordon P. Getty includes important works by Konstantin Yuon, Konstantin Somov, Konstantin Gorbatov, Alexander Benois and Sergei Sudeikin. In Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra in Winter, Yuon sought to convey the poetic charm of the Russian provinces (est. $250/350,000). This monastery complex north of Moscow became one of Yuon’s favorite subjects, and the present work is characterized by a melancholic nostalgia, with patches of color breaking through a bleak winter landscape. Somov’s Les Sylphides captures a performance of the early-twentieth century ballet of the same name, a romantic show that formally premiered with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris in 1909 (est. $120/180,000). Somov executed a small number of ballet miniatures between 1930 and 1932, but his return to theatrical scenes with Les Sylphides came shortly after the death of Diaghilev, whom the artist considered both a close friend and source of inspiration.

The 4 November sale also features three strong works from leading Socialist Realist painters, including Yuri Pimenov. The artist’s cityscapes rank among the most highly sought-after images of the Soviet era. His representations of everyday scenes unfolding against Moscow’s evolving skyline offer a unique commentary on the extraordinary socio-economic changes taking place. In First of May Celebration, 1950, as in many of Pimenov’s most famous paintings, men are absent from the scene (est. $400/600,000). Female workers are represented in monumental scale above the streets of Moscow, highlighting the important role they play in a productive society; they hoist the Soviet flag in celebration of the First of May, also known as May Day or International Workers’ Day.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium

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