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Sotheby's to offer a pair of the most magnificent imperial vases ever to come to auction
The sale is led by a pair of the most magnificent Imperial vases ever to come to auction (est. £2-2.5 million). Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- On 25th and 26th November, over a series of four auctions, Sotheby’s will bring together more than £16 million of Russian paintings, sculpture and decorative arts for its biannual sales of Russian art in London. Led by a pair of the most magnificent Imperial vases ever to come to auction (est. £2-2.5 million), Sotheby’s sales series will include important paintings by Henri Semiradsky, Petr Vereshchagin and Nikolai Fechin. This season the company will also stage the inaugural auction of ‘Contemporary East’ - the first-ever sale dedicated to contemporary art from Russia and Eastern Europe held by an international auction house.

Jo Vickery, Senior Director and Head of Sotheby’s Russian Art Department said: We are kicking off the Russian sales week with a new and innovative sale of Russian and Eastern European Art led by Ilya Kabakov's Holiday, No 6. Our Evening sale boasts several Russian masterpieces with excellent provenance which are offered on the market for the first time ever. The highlight of our Russian Works of Art sale is a truly rare and magnificent pair of Imperial porcelain vases which we expect to appeal not only to Russian collectors but major art buyers across the globe. It is clear that demand for great Russian works is currently as strong as ever.

A magnificent pair of Imperial porcelain vases
Imperial Porcelain Manufactory, period of Nicholas I
dated 1833, £2,000,000-2,500,000

‘The size and decoration of these vases make a bold statement, just as they did 180 years ago. We’ve called them ‘magnificent’ but that doesn’t really do them justice. They are impressive on a truly Imperial scale’ - Darin Bloomquist, Director, Head of Russian Works of Art at Sotheby’s.

Produced in 1833 at the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory of Nicholas I, these magnificent large-scale porcelain vases rank among the very best, most desirable examples of their type.

The three decades of Emperor Nicholas I’s reign are regarded as the peak of porcelain production in Russia. He was an enthusiastic patron of the Imperial Manufactory and was, apart from Catherine the Great, the Russian monarch most interested in the arts. Foremost among the porcelain wares made during this period are the vases on which the central panels serve as ‘canvases’ for reproducing two-dimensional works of art. Paintings were either brought to the manufactory for copying, or the painter-decorators worked in a room at the Hermitage specially reserved for the purpose. Such vases were often produced for the Emperor himself, presented to him at New Year or Easter, or for a member of the Imperial family, sometimes as part of a dowry, or as diplomatic gifts to foreigners.

The first of the present vases is painted with an interior genre scene after the The Concert by Anthonie Palamedes (1601-1673), copied by the master porcelain painter Semyon Golov (c1783-1849). The original painting remains in the collection of the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg. The second vase is painted with an outdoor musical gathering. The whereabouts of the original painting and the identity of its artist remain unknown though if indeed the painting has been lost to history, it has been skilfully reproduced here by the master porcelain painter Vasili Meshcheriakov (b. 1781).

A Fabergé jewelled and enamelled gold flower study
St Petersburg, circa 1900
Est. £220,000-250,000

Dating from around 1900, this flower study is one of only a small number of buttercups produced by Fabergé. Each flower is set with a brilliant-cut diamond and has gold stamens, engraved leaves and enamelled petals. A similar example is held in the Royal Collection.

Henri Semiradsky
Un naufragé mendiant (1878)
oil on canvas, 208 by 293.5cm

Born into a Polish family near Kharkov, a graduate of the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg and a resident of Rome, Semiradsky was a truly pan-European artist who in his works brought to life a Golden Age of European civilisation. He took Paris by storm when he submitted three paintings to the Exposition Universelle in 1878, and was singled out not just for his monumental masterpiece The Torches of Nero (now held in the National Museum Krakow), but also for the two other paintings hanging alongside this spectacular canvas: La coupe ou la femme and Un naufragé mendiant.

Now estimated at £1-1.3 million, Un naufragé mendiant is one of the artist’s most significant works remaining in private hands. Depicting a beautiful young woman being lowered on to a luxurious barge as she looks at an elderly beggar, it is an exceptional example of an idealised scene set in Classical antiquity and a tour de force of light, colour and different textures. The Russian Imperial family were among Semiradsky’s patrons, and sadly many of his other monumental works, such as his murals for the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, are now lost.

Originally in the collection of the Hollywood actor and collector, George Montgomery (1916-2000), this is unquestionably the most impressive nude by Fechin ever to come to auction and a striking example of the artist’s talent as a colourist - demonstrating an exquisite command of palette and an adept understanding of form. The present nude is one of several works from Montgomery’s collection bequeathed to the Palm Springs Art Museum after the actor’s death. It will be sold by the museum in November to benefit the George Montgomery Acquisition Fund.

Vereshchagin spent the winter of 1873-74 in Tiflis after travelling through the Caucasus following the course of the river Rioni. The exoticism of the region, and Tiflis in particular, made it an extremely attractive destination for a number of Russian writers and painters - it was a highly cosmopolitan city during the 19th century, populated by Armenians, Turks and Azeris and a hub of trade, as Vereshchagin’s bustling street scene implies. Fascinated by the life of the local population, the architecture and colour, Vereshschagin gave the contemporary spectator a real sense of local life in the far-flung cities of the Russian empire which they would likely never see first-hand.

Nikolai Roerich
Karelia, Evening Snow
1918, £250,000-350,000

This landscape was most likely painted in Sortavala, where the Roerich family lived after fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution. They had left behind all their possessions, money was running out and the future was uncertain while the artist was slowly recovering from a near fatal bout of pneumonia. This is one of very few winter scenes from the period and shows not a hint of the turmoil in the artist’s personal life or the madness engulfing the continent.

Nikolai Sapunov
Peonies, 1907
Estimate £40,000-60,000
Valentin Serov
Portrait of a Lady said to be Maria Vasilievna Yakunchikova, 1892
Estimate £200,000-300,000

This portrait is thought to depict Maria Yakunchikova (1870-1902), a close friend of the Abramtsevo group and an artist in her own right. She was the subject of a number of works by her contemporaries including At Tea by Konstantin Korovin.

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November 22, 2013

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