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Previously unseen on the market: Still Life with Fruit by Ilya Mashkov presented at Christie's
Ilya Mashkov (1881-1944) Still Life with Fruit, 1910. Oil on canvas, 103 x 133.8 cm. Estimate: £1,000,000–1,500,000 /$ 1,500,000 – 2,300,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2013.
MOSCOW.- Christie’s presents Ilya Mashkov’s (1881-1944) masterpiece Still life with fruit, the finest example of Russian Neo-Primitivism to appear at auction in recent history. Painted in 1910, it was shown at the inaugural Jack of Diamonds exhibition in Moscow in 1911, one of the most significant exhibitions of Russian Avant-Garde. Exceptionally rare, Still life with fruit will lead the Russian Art sale at Christie’s London on 3 June 2013, making its debut on the international market. This extraordinary painting will be unveiled to the public in Moscow for the first time in over one hundred years at Christie’s 20th exhibition of highlights, which will cover 350 years of art history and will be held at Spiridonov House, from 24 to 26 April 2013.

Still life with fruit reveals the influence of the French Fauves who were comprehensively represented in the Moscow collections of pioneering 19th century Russian collectors Ivan Morozov and Sergei Shchukin. Its ingenuity lies in Mashkov’s sophisticated synthesis of Western modernism with distinctly national sources. The empty background references Russian woodcuts known as lubki; the flattened perspective recalls hand-painted trays; the simplified fruits are reminiscent of the blunt carvings of the ancient anthropomorphic stone obelisks of southern Russia. Simultaneously, the work reveals the extent to which Western artists, particularly Matisse, informed Mashkov’s approach. This is most evident in the vibrant palette, the heavy Fauvist outline and the plain yet textured rendering of the blue/green background, which directly references Cézanne. There is also something distinctly classical about the composition; the arrangement of the fruits in Still life with fruit reminiscent of Giotto’s compositions, with the central anchoring area of interest flanked by symmetrical attendants.

Measuring an impressive 103 x 133.8 cm, Still life with fruit was one of 20 canvasses by Mashkov included in the landmark exhibition of the Jack of Diamonds (December 1910 to January 1911). The exhibition was organised on the impetus of Natalia Goncharova, Petr Konchalovsky, Mikhail Larionov and Aristarkh Lentulov and showcased works by the French Fauves and German Expressionists alongside their Russian counterparts.

Still life with fruit was last exhibited in 1913, along with works by Derain, Mondrian and Konchalovsky among others, at the third exhibition organised by the Contemporary Art Society at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. The first appearance of this remarkable painting on the international art market provides a unique opportunity to simultaneously acquire a masterpiece by one of Russia’s most significant artists and an important piece of Russian Art history.

By circa 1920, Still life with fruit was in the collection of William Beffie (1880-1950). Personally acquainted with Marc, Kandinsky, Jawlensky and Le Fauconnier, Beffie was a passionate collector of German and Russian Expressionist art and assembled a world-class collection in Amsterdam in the early 20th century. Many paintings formerly in his collection now enrich major museums worldwide including the Guggenheim, the Stedelijk Museum and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. It is likely that Beffie acquired Mashkov’s Still life with fruit directly from the 1913 exhibition in Amsterdam via one of his two advisors: Henri Le Fauconnier, who was a participant in the 1910 Jack of Diamonds exhibition and the 1913 Stedelijk Museum exhibition, or Conrad Kickert, the Dutch artist and critic who served as the Contemporary Art Society’s Secretary and Treasurer.

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