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Sotheby's to sell an important private collection of works by Alexander Benois this November
Alexander Benois, Set Design for Le Rossignol, 1914. Est. £30,000-50,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Sotheby’s announces that the forthcoming Russian Art Sale Series this November will be highlighted by an Important Private Collection of Works by Alexander Benois. The 130 lot sale features exquisite works on paper spanning the artist’s lifetime and artistic oeuvre. Fifty-two highlights from the collection will be on view at Sotheby’s Paris from the 19th to 22nd September. The auction will take place on Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 and is expected to bring between £830,000-1,200,000. The collection, comprising ballet, opera set and costume designs, watercolour views of Russia, France and Italy, book illustrations, sketchbooks, and portraits of the artist’s family represents the largest collection of works by Benois to be offered for sale in recent history.

Commenting on the sale, Sabina Tringalas, Deputy Director and Specialist in the Russian Art Department, said: “We are thrilled to be offering this remarkable collection of fresh-to-the-market works from the family of Alexander Benois, one of the cardinal figures of 20th century Russian artistic culture and a name synonymous with the Ballet Russes. We hope the auction of these pieces will generate tremendous excitement among not only Russian clients and collectors of ballet and theatre material, but also collectors from Italy and France – where we will exhibit highlights later this month. The sale features some wonderful views of Venice, Milan, Brittany and the South of France which convey the artist’s outstanding ability to effortlessly capture the unique character of these locations.”

Collection Highlights:
Benois was the descendant of Alberto Cavos, the Russian-Italian architect who built the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow as well as the Mariinsky and Bolshoi Kamenny theatres in St. Petersburg. The latter, which was demolished in 1886, is depicted in one of the highlights of the sale, The Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, St. Petersburg Beneath the Snow, which is estimated at £20,000-30,000.

A member of the World of Art group, Benois looked to the beauty and spirit of the past throughout his life, wistfully admiring a world that had long since vanished. Fearful of the destruction to Russia’s cultural heritage which might follow the Russian Revolution, he produced a series of luminous watercolours of the grounds and interiors of St. Petersburg’s Imperial Palaces at Peterhof and Tsarskoe Selo. These watercolours promoted a re-evaluation of Russia’s Classical and Baroque culture, providing the artist with continued inspiration in exile, and a number of them are featured in the collection.

Particularly charming is the Three Views of Camaret, Brittany. Executed in 1925 and painted in watercolour and ink over pencil on paper, it is expected to make £6,000-8,000.

Benois also produced several important series of watercolours of the Palace of Versailles. As A. Etkind describes in his book Benois and Russian Artistic Culture, the artist employed a similarly dynamic approach to his watercolour views as he did to his set design: “He reproduces the landscape through the lorgnette of historical reminiscences, memoirs, poetic and musical works; thanks to which the studies acquire the nature of lyrical reflections” 16 Views of Versailles is estimated at £40,000-60,000.

Benois is perhaps best known for his work as a theatre designer for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and later for Ida Rubenstein’s dance troupe. His designs for Petrushka, and The Sleeping Beauty are among the best-loved in the ballet repertoire, and are featured in the collection. In creating his renowned sets, Benois drew inspiration from foreign cultures and the decorative arts as illustrated by his designs for Le Rossignol, 1914 and The Sleeping Beauty in watercolour, gouache and ink on paper, respectively estimated at £30,000-50,000 and £10,000-15,000.

The Artist’s Family at Villa Roustand, 1932 (estimated at £8,000 – 12,000) is a particularly delightful example of the group of private family portraits featured in the collection, many of which are annotated in detail and give a unique insight into the most treasured moments of Benois’ private life.

Collection Highlights not on view in Paris:
Two further highlights in the collection, both views of Venice, Italy, are View of Piazza San Marco from the Torre Dell’Orologio (below left) and A View of the Ponte Rialto (below right), respectively estimated at £3,000-5,000 and £6,000-8,000.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium

Sothebys | Alexander Benois |

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