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Rose tinted vision: Mountain mirages and falk tales at Bonhams Russian Sale
A celestial, lavender lit vision of the snow-capped Himalayan mountain, Kanchenjunga (1935-1936) by Nikolai Roerich is one of a myriad of highlights in The Russian Sale taking place at Bonhams spectacular new headquarters in New Bond Street on 27th November. Photo: Courtesy of Bonhams.

LONDON.- A celestial, lavender lit vision of the snow-capped Himalayan mountain, Kanchenjunga (1935-1936) by Nikolai Roerich is one of a myriad of highlights in The Russian Sale taking place at Bonhams spectacular new headquarters in New Bond Street on 27th November.

The painting is estimated at £800,000-£1,200,000 and is signed to the lower right with Roerich’s monogram. It is arguably the artist's most significant depiction of the legendary mountain Kanchenjunga ever to appear on the art market.

Kanchenjunga means literally ‘The Five Treasures of the Great Snow’. Until 1852 the five-peak mountain was considered to be the highest point in the world and has long been revered as a sacred place, close to the heavens and believed to be an ‘abode of God’.

Artist and philosopher Nikolai Roerich was known for his highly spiritual and symbolic work. He was captivated by the mountain and regarded it as the holiest place in the Eastern world. It proved to be a life-long fascination for Roerich. He found a home in the Kuku Valley which overlooked Kanchenjunga and was to paint it nearly forty times during his career. However, this is the only work which captures the entirety of all five great peaks, and so, is a culmination of a life’s work on the artist’s favourite subject.

The snowy peaks appear almost mirage-like in Roerich’s painting, disconnected from the earth as they break above the cloud line. The brilliant colours – crisp pink snow, magenta sky and hazy deep blue dusk give the scene a mythical, otherworldly quality.

Corona Mundi (£300,000-500,000), is another highly spiritual work by Nikolai Roerich showing a male and female saint standing on either side of the ‘Tree of Life’. The saints hold the crown of the Kingdom of Heaven and a church, symbolising a union of the divine and the earthly. An eagle sits in the roots of the tree while doves nest in the branches above.

The work was painted in 1921 when Russia was crippled from World War I and the following Russian Civil Wars of 1918-21 and suffering from famine on a catastrophic scale. Roerich wrote: “The Earth is fiery hot, scorched by evil. The heat tests the roots of the Tree of Life, but Good weaves holy nests in its branches up above...” Throughout his life, Roerich sought to unite man and God. This work is arguably his most significant allegorical piece ever to appear on the art market.

Another labour of love is Lady in Lilac, a portrait by Robert Rafailovich Falk of first his wife and a fellow artist, Elizaveta Potechina. The oil on canvas painting is estimated at £1,000,000-1,500,000.

Elizaveta was from an old aristocratic family who disapproved of her marriage to Falk. She was Falk’s favourite model, and though he painted countless portraits of her, she remained an enigma to him.

Lady in Lilac is different to the many previous portraits where she poses averting her gaze. In Lady in Lilac she stares back, directly engaging with the viewer. This unique work by Falk conveys the complex character of his wife and provides the viewer a window into their relationship.

Other highlights in the sale include Portrait of Olga, a portrait by Konstantin Makovsky (1839-1915) of the artist’s daughter, valued at £200,000-£300,000. The portrait was created in anticipation of Olga’s sixteenth birthday and her coming of age as a young woman in society. She appears especially delicate and fragile dressed in an elaborate white dress – a young girl on the brink of adulthood.

Two landscapes by Lev Felixovitch Lagorio (1828–1905) from an important private European collection are offered in the sale, Caucasian landscape (£100,000-£120,000) and Mount Elbrus (£100,000-£120,000). It is probable that the paintings were acquired directly from the artist in St. Petersburg in the 1870s. The buyer was German Vice-Consul, Karl Emil Weber, who moved in the same social circles as Lev Lagorio’s father, the Neapolitan Consul in St. Petersburg. The paintings have been passed down by family descent ever since.

Road along the bank of Őresund. Night view by Aleksei Petrovich Bogolyubov is offered with estimates of £150,000-250,000. The work was commissioned by Grand Duke Alexander Aleksandrovich (future Emperor Alexander III) in 1867 and was given to his wife, Grand Duchess Maria Fedorovna as a Christmas present in December of the same year.

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November 18, 2013

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