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Vasili Vasilievich Vereshchagin painting to highlight Sotheby's auction of important Russian art
Vasili Vasilievich Vereshchagin, Pearl Mosque at Delhi. Est. $3/5 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, N.Y.- Sotheby’s auction of Important Russian Art on 1 November 2011 will be led by Vasili Vasilievich Vereshchagin’s Pearl Mosque at Delhi, the most accomplished painting from the artist’s famed Indian series and his most significant canvas to appear at auction in over a century (est. $3/5 million*). The monumental work – measuring approximately 13 by 16 feet – is on offer from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), along with seven works in the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale the following night. Pearl Mosque at Delhi will be on view in Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries beginning 26 October, alongside the full sale exhibition.

“We are thrilled to offer this true masterwork from the collection of the MFA,” commented Sonya Bekkerman, Head of Sotheby’s Russian Paintings department in New York. “Beyond its astonishing size, Pearl Mosque at Delhi represents pure painterly perfection. For an artist made famous by his provocative images of war, the work showcases Vereshchagin’s supreme versatility, and underscores his position as one of the leading visual historians of the 19th century. Our Important Russian Art auctions are showcases for fresh and rare works with exceptional provenance, and this is a perfect example.”

Proceeds from the sale of the eight works on offer this November from the MFA will benefit its acquisition fund for the purchase of Gustave Caillebotte’s Man at His Bath (1884), one of the French painter’s greatest works. It will be on view in the Museum’s upcoming exhibition, Degas and the Nude (October 9, 2011, through February 5, 2012), co-organized with the Musée d’Orsay.

Vasili Vasilievich Vereshchagin (1842-1904) was unquestionably the most famous of all Russian painters during his lifetime. After flourishing in his fine arts classes at the Naval Cadet School in Tsarskoe Selo and the Saint Petersburg Academy of the Arts, the artist moved to Paris to study under Orientalist master Jean Léon Gérôme at the esteemed École des Beaux-Arts. There, Vereshchagin was greatly influenced by Gérôme’s Turkish and Egyptian genre paintings, and began to incorporate ethnographic elements of the “exotic” into his own imagery.

In 1874, after having returned to Russia and sold several works to collector Pavel Tretyakov, Vereshchagin acquired sufficient funds to visit India with his wife. The couple embarked on a two-year journey throughout the country. No other major artist had ever visited India at the time, and Vereshchagin found much inspiration in the intensity of the landscape.

Upon his return to Paris in 1876, Vereshchagin set to work on Pearl Mosque at Delhi, which at approximately 13 by 16 feet was his largest canvas to date and perhaps the most monumental of his career. Often considered the best, most technically adept output of his career, Vereshchagin’s Indian series features numerous depictions of architectural monuments, all of which he realistically captured with painstaking attention to detail – a testament to the lasting influence of Gérôme on his oeuvre. Vereshchagin’s progress on Pearl Mosque at Delhi was interrupted by the outbreak of the Balkan War in 1877, during which the artist set aside his work and served as a volunteer with the Russian Imperial Army. He returned to the canvas in 1878, and finished the masterwork the following year.

By the mid-1880s, Vereshchagin found himself in financial need, and decided to try selling his works – including Pearl Mosque at Delhi – in the large, new art market that was flourishing in America. He traveled to New York for the first time in September 1888, and his show at the American Art Association in November of that year was the first solo exhibition of any Russian artist in the United States. The event was a blockbuster success, and proved so profitable that it was turned into a traveling exhibition. The entire collection was sold at auction in November 1891, and Pearl Mosque at Delhi was purchased for $2,100 by the collector and philanthropist Mrs. Roland C. Lincoln of Boston, Massachusetts. Mrs. Lincoln donated the work to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston the following year.

Sothebys | Vasili Vasilievich Vereshchagins Pearl Mosque at Delhi | Museum of Fine Arts | MFA | Sonya Bekkerman |

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