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More than 400 important Russian works of art to be offered at Christie's London on 26 November
Mikhail Nesterov (1862-1942), Two Sisters. Estimate: £300,000-500,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2012.

LONDON.- Christie’s continues to celebrate its 40th anniversary of Russian Art Sales, which first began in 1972. On 26 November, Christie’s auction of Important Russian Art will offer 415 works of art, ranging from evocative views of the Russian landscape and sensual portraits, to examples of the finest craftsmanship, with over 60 works by Fabergé. The sale also features a particularly strong group of militaria, and focuses on important and imperial provenance. The Auction will be highlighted by an exciting rediscovery; an exquisite portrait by Nicolai Fechin (1881-1955), unseen in public since 1913 (estimate: £800,000-1,200,000).

A renowned and versatile artist, Nicolai Fechin, was an outstanding master of portraiture. While he painted many significant works following his emigration to America, Fechin’s ‘Russian period’ (1910-1923) is particularly prized among international collectors and is exceptionally rare at auction. Fechin’s portraits from this time are characterised by an impression of spontaneity, evoked by the freedom and fluidity of his brushstrokes.

Until recently, the existence of the painting was only known from a 1914 publication and the artist’s own archive, rendering this masterly museum-quality portrait an exciting rediscovery. The sitter, Natalia Alexandrovna Podbelskaya was a student of the Kazan Art School and is Fechin’s most famous model from this early period. Only three other compositions featuring Podbelskaya are known: two plein-air studies (in the collections of the Bashkir Art Museum named after M. V. Nesterov and the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg) and a 1912 portrait, Lady in Pink, widely considered a masterpiece (Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA, USA). Portrait of Mademoiselle Podbelskaya brilliantly exemplifies all the signature features of Fechin’s body of work, employing a wide range of techniques, combining smooth painting with rapid brush strokes and heavy impasto.

Christie’s Important Russian Art auction is further highlighted by an atmospheric landscape by Aleksei Bogoliubov (1824-1896), Night procession in Yaroslavl' (estimate: £300,000-500,000), painted following the artist’s journeys along the Volga in 1861 and 1863, and a breath-taking 1923 Symbolist composition by Mikhail Nesterov (1862-1942) entitled Two Sisters (estimate: £300,000-500,000). Nesterov developed this composition into a series of powerful canvasses over a period of ten years, including one example held in the collection of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus. Further picture highlights include A pier in Gurzuf by Konstantin Korovin (1861-1939) painted in 1917 (estimate: £200,000-300,000); a work by Boris Grigoriev (1886-1939) entitled Portrait of Patricio Edwards (estimate: £300,000 – 500,000) painted in Chile in 1928; and Moonlit Mausoleums, a vibrant 1915 composition by Alexander Volkov which was recently exhibited at Christie’s London at Volkov’s first international exhibition entitled Alexander Volkov: Of Sand and Silk (estimate: £200,000 – 300,000).

Maria Iakunchikova’s (1870-1902) Reflection of an intimate world window (estimate: £150,000-200,000), painted in 1894, leads a collection of 14 lots offered directly from the family of this rare and important artist. In addition, the sale will feature the most significant collection of works by Alexander Orlovsky (1777-1832) ever to appear at auction and will include his last known self-portrait. Of Polish origin Orlovsky is considered a unique figure in the history of Russian Art for his powerful battle scenes and original caricatures. His friend, Alexander Pushkin, immortalised the draftsman in his poem Ruslan and Ludmila: “Take your quick pencil, Orlovsky, draw the night and battle!”

Further highlights include a group of graphic works by Sergei Chekhonin (1878-1936) ranging from £1,000-8,000 which appear on the market for the first time this season and come to Christie’s directly from the artist’s family.

Christie’s will offer a range of truly exceptional Russian works of art from distinguished private collections, most of which have never appeared at auction before. With an emphasis on imperial and important provenance, the sale includes over 60 works by Fabergé. Top lots include a highly important Fabergé silver kovsh originally in the collection of the Nobel Family (£250,000-350,000). The powerful Nobel family is considered to be amongst Fabergé's most important clients, commissioning a variety of gifts and personal objects. The impressive quality and design of this kovsh embody Fabergé’s distinctive neo-Russian designs in boldly chased silver. Monumental in size, this silverkovsh of traditional form is marked Fabergé with the Imperial warrant and was made in Moscow, circa 1909.

The sale is further highlighted by a beautiful platinum-mounted diamond and topaz cross pendant by Fabergé. The pendant was purchased by Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, from Fabergé's St Petersburg branch on 12 December 1912 for 1,350 roubles, most probably as a gift to the Emperor’s sister Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna (estimate: £50,000-70,000). Offered directly by the family of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, Christie’s November sale offers a rare opportunity to acquire this important piece at auction. The sale also includes a strong group of Imperial presentation pieces, the centerpiece of which is a sapphire-set tercentenary pendant, acquired by the Cabinet of his Imperial Majesty from Fabergé’s St Petersburg branch in1913 (estimate: £20,000-30,000). Further lots with Imperial provenance also include a gold-mounted nephrite and enamel box marked Fabergé, with the workmaster's mark of Michael Perchin, purchased by Emperor Nicholas II in 1898 (estimate: £40,000-60,000).

The Fabergé selection in the sale also includes a group of twelve cane and parasol handles, offered from the Vertical Art Collection, the proceeds to benefit the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation and the University of California San Francisco Thoracic Oncology Lung Cancer Program. Formed by an American private collector, who chooses to remain anonymous, the group is highlighted by an exquisitely jewelled two-colour gold and striped enamel cane handle by Fabergé’s head workmaster, Michael Perchin (estimate: £7,000-10,000). On November 30th a larger group of works from the same collection will be offered for sale at Christie's New York.

The sale also features an important group of militaria, led by a collection of Romanov orders, including an important silver-gilt and enamel badge and star of the Order of St Andrew the First-Called, which are rare works, never seen before on the market (estimate: £90,000-110,000).

Christie’s will also offer a fine selection of six eighteenth-century silver and niello boxes from an American Private Collection. The works represent the major centres of niello production and provide a tour of historic events and places in the Russian Empire in the latter half of the eighteenth century, when the art of niello work was at its height. The centrepiece of the collection is a rare and unusual cartographic snuff-box depicting the Siberian capitol of Tobolsk, with views of other Siberian cities on its side and base (estimate: £60,000-80,000).

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November 2, 2012

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