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Sotheby's New York announces annual autumn sale of important Russian art in November
Natalia Sergeevna Goncharova, Street in Moscow, 1909, titled, numbered and inscribed in Cyrillic (on the reverse), oil on canvas, 25 1/2 by 31 in., 65 by 79 cm. Est. $1.2/1.5 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, N.Y.- Sotheby’s annual autumn auction of Important Russian Art in New York will be held on 1 November 2011. In response to persistent demand for rare and historic works with exceptional provenance, the sale will offer 26 museum-quality masterpieces spanning important genres in Russian art, from 19th century paintings to the early avant-garde and Soviet eras of the 20th century. The auction is estimated at $19.4/28.2 million in total, with a strong average lot value of nearly $1 million, and will be highlighted by pictures from two American institutions: Vasili Vasilievich Vereshchagin’s Pearl Mosque at Delhi, on offer from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), and a group three works by Nicolai Fechin that includes Bearing Away the Bride, on offer from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma. A selection of works will be on view in Moscow from 18–20 October, before returning to New York for the full sale exhibition opening 26 October in Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries, alongside the auctions of Impressionist & Modern Art and 19th Century European Art.

Property from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
The three paintings by Russian-American artist Nicolai Fechin on offer from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City will be led by Bearing Away the Bride, the most significant and monumental canvas by the artist ever to appear at auction (est. $3/5 million). Proceeds from the sale of the three works will help fund future acquisitions of Western materials at the Museum, which is America’s premier institution of Western history, art and culture.

Bearing Away the Bride is the key painting from Fechin’s exceptionally rare Russian period that defined him as a mature artist, having arrived at the distinct style and ethnographic interests that would characterize his long and prosperous career, and is among the most singularly accomplished of his entire oeuvre. The work was inspired by Fechin’s travels to remote villages outside Kazan during the summers of 1906 and 1907, where he encountered members of the Cheremis (now Mari) tribes, among others. It depicts a traditional wedding ritual performed by the Cheremis in the village of Lipsha. According to native custom, the newlyweds would return to their respective childhood homes after the wedding ceremony itself, and remain apart for a full week. Fechin here depicts the moment when the groom returns to his wife and escorts her to their new, shared home.

Property from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) to Benefit the Collection
The November auction will also feature 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 on 2 November.

Vereshchagin was unquestionably the most famous of all Russian painters during his lifetime. In 1874, he acquired sufficient funds to visit India with his wife and 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 was his largest canvas to date and perhaps the most monumental of his entire oeuvre. 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 his training under Jean-Léon Gérôme.

19th Century Paintings
In addition to Pearl Mosque at Delhi, 19th century works in the November auction will be highlighted by Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin’s Sandy Coastline from 1879 (est. $1.2/1.8 million). The work is a marvel of natural rendition that borders on Romanticism, wherein the bright coast and the glowing tops of the abstracted tree trunks contrast with the darkened sky. Shishkin simultaneously depicts the un-idealized reality of the scene, capturing the forest’s struggle for survival in an inhospitable terrain. The composition might be seen as a metaphor for prerevolutionary Russia’s precarious viability, meager foundations and impending political unrest, but also and its will to endure.

Early Avant-Garde
Featured on the catalogue cover will be Natalia Sergeevna Goncharova’s Street in Moscow from 1909 (est. $1.2/1.5 million). One of the most revolutionary figures of her generation, Goncharova is further distinguished as the most valuable and collectible of all female artists. While most of her canvases from the early-20th century focused on Russian peasant life, Street in Moscow is distinct for its portrayal of a refined bourgeois cityscape, which she embeds with amusing commentary on social classes. Meanwhile the presence of street signs underscores Goncharova’s interest in Russian folk art, making this one of the earliest examples of Russian avant-garde painting.

Also on offer from this period is Still Life in a Tavern in a Minor Key by Mikhail Fedorovich Larionov, which similarly represents one of the earliest contributions to the Russian avant-garde (est. $700/900,000). Working in a revolutionary Neo-primitivist style, Larionov emphasizes the “Eastern” origins of the imagery in this still life by featuring a traditional samovar and cup.

Early-20th Century Masters
Further highlights from the early-20th century include canvases by Petr Petrovich Konchalovsky and Nicholas Roerich. Konchalovsky finished the powerful and vibrant Pines in 1920, dating it to one of the artist’s most sought-after periods (est. $800,000/1.2 million). In terms of its synthesis of color, texture and form, the work is a superb representation of the aims of the Jack of Diamonds group, which the painter helped to found in 1909, and demonstrates the raw vitality of Konchalovsky’s work. And We Continue Fishing is the fourth of six paintings in Roerich’s Sancta series (est. $1.2/1.5 million). These allegorical works are meant to represent a spiritual journey, and they are unique within the artist’s work from the 1920s for their distinctively Russian setting and imagery. The work exudes a simplicity of form and a reverence of subject that evokes the nature of icon painting.

Soviet Era Works
Paintings from Soviet-Era artists will be led by Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev’s Fireworks. The Bronze Horseman (est. $3/4 million). Kustodiev was approached by the Central Bureau to prepare decorative designs for the first anniversary celebration of the October Revolution in 1918. The result was a series of large-scale panels that decorated Ruzheinaya Square in what was then Petrograd, and it is all but certain that Fireworks. The Bronze Horseman was executed as part of this remarkable cycle. The composition centers on one imposing figure – the equestrian statue featuring Tsar Peter I, St. Petersburg’s founder. The bold palette and exuberant technique evoke Kustodiev’s own intense nationalism.

Another highlight from this period will be Faces of a Generation by Aristarkh Vasilevich Lentulov (est. $1.4/1.6 million). In the 1930s, Lentulov adjusted his style to reflect the drastic changes occurring around him, and the resulting works from his “Industrial Period” are among his rarest and most emotive. The laborers at the heart of the revolution figure prominently in his paintings from this period, their faces dominating the artist’s monumental canvases and infusing them with psychological intensity.

Sothebys | Russian art | Vasili Vasilievich Vereshchagin | Pearl Mosque at Delhi |

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