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Ambassador's treasured collection of Russian icons to grace Bonhams New York
Icon of the Annunciation in silver-gilt basma with pearls, 16th-17th century, 12 3/8 x 10 3/16in. Est $25,000-35,000. Photo: Courtesy of Bonhams.

NEW YORK, NY.- Bonhams will present US Ambassador Laurence A Steinhardt's (1892-1950) exemplary collection of Russian icons at the Madison Avenue salesroom on April 10. Divine Treasures: Important Russian Icons from the Collection of Ambassador Laurence A Steinhardt is comprised of over 60 devotional pieces ranging in date from the 16th-20th centuries. A dedicated student of Russian art and former US Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Steinhardt personally selected each splendid example and displayed them proudly in his remarkable home. The collection has been cherished by the Steinhardt family for generations and is the finest known assemblage of Russian icons in private hands.

As the scion of New York elites, Steinhardt developed his discerning eye growing up amid privilege and sophisticated connoisseurship. His relatives' celebrated art collections helped form the basis of some of the city's most important institutions, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A lawyer by training, Steinhardt began his diplomatic career in 1933. President Roosevelt appointed him Ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1939, where he bravely led the US diplomatic mission for the next two years, bearing witness to the early turmoil of WWII. He continued his ambassadorial career with appointments throughout Europe and the Americas until his untimely death at age 57 in a plane crash en route to Washington, DC.

Steinhardt first visited Russia in the mid-1930s, where he was impressed by the aesthetic and religious significance of icons – sacred images venerated by generations of Russian Orthodox believers as a window to heaven. Steinhardt understood the icons’ central role in the Russian psyche, even as the new socialist government closed monasteries and demolished churches. Icons, along with other symbols of orthodoxy, were confiscated and often destroyed. Those that escaped the bonfires were routinely sold as a source of hard currency. Steinhardt's dedication to preserving these extraordinary objects doubtlessly saved many fine examples from oblivion.

The collection features a variety of schools from the golden age of Russian icon painting to the late Imperial period. Highlights include a rare icon of Deesis with Christ Emmanuel (est. $80,000-120,000) and a late 17th century triptych Smolensk icon of the Mother of God with a metal oklad (est. $80,000-120,000). The exquisite craftsmanship found throughout the collection is a testament to the Ambassador's eye for artistic quality and deep appreciation of Russian culture. Many superb examples were loaned to the Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens in Washington, DC in 2004, where they were displayed alongside the museum’s highly respected collection of Russian Imperial Art for more than six years.

Bonhams will offer Divine Treasures: Important Russian Icons from the Collection of Ambassador Laurence A Steinhardt on April 10 in New York. The sale will preview at Bonhams April 5-10.

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