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Major collection of over 250 works on paper by Natalia Goncharove offered at Sotheby's
Natalia Goncharova, La Princesse Cygne, Study for a Panel in the Koussevitzky Villa (circa 1922), estimate £60,000-80,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Over 250 works on paper by Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962), the greatest female Russian artist of the 20th century, will be offered at Sotheby’s sale of Russian Art in London on 1 December 2015. Together they constitute the largest and most comprehensive collection of Goncharova’s work ever to come to auction, including her ground-breaking set and costume designs for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in the 1910s, alongside fashion designs, studies for well-known paintings and sketches dating right up until the 1940s. The vast majority of the works have never been exhibited in public before; they will be unveiled in London for the first time on 27 November 2015 ahead of the sale.

The works were acquired directly from Goncharova and her husband artist Mikhail Larionov (1881-1964) by the Lefebvre-Foinet family, who for over a century provided artistic materials and friendship to generations of artists in Paris. Since then, the collection has passed into the hands of a new owner and is now estimated at £942,000.

Founded in Montparnasse in 1901 by Paul Foinet and his son-in-law Lucien Lefebvre, the legendary oakpanelled “Lefebvre-Foinet” shop was a haven for the artists of Paris - not only for Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov, but also Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse and Amedeo Modigliani. The family forged close friendships with their clients, often accepting pictures in payment of debts. In time, the successive generations of Lefebvre-Foinets amassed a formidable collection. With the outbreak of the Second World War, Lucien’s brother René (the one-time lover of Peggy Guggehenim) used this connection to arrange for the collection to be shipped to safety in America where it remained until it could safely return to Paris after the war.

Set Designs for Diaghilev’s unrealised Spanish Ballets Russes: Triana and Espagne
For Goncharova, an artist who had emigrated almost by accident and who remained spiritually rooted in Russia, Spain was a revelation: “I love Spain. It seems to me that out of all the countries I have visited, this is the only one where there is some hidden energy. This is very close to Russia…..” Diaghilev had invited Goncharova and Larionov to join him on an exploratory trip around the country in the summer of 1916, and the journey proved to be a catalyst for change in Goncharova’s art. The impression it made was to have a profound influence on much of her output for the next two decades.

Between 1916 and 1919 Goncharova produced numerous studies, costume and set designs for both the Spanish-inspired ballets Diaghilev was planning, Triana and Espagne. Even though neither ballet was ever staged, this did not stop Goncharova from exhibiting the unrealised plans and they cemented her reputation as one of the greatest stage designers of the time.

1920s fashion designs
In keeping with her socialist beliefs Goncharova herself dressed very modestly, austerely even, and yet she was an unexpected arbiter of taste amongst the beau-monde of Paris. She had first turned her hand to fashion design in 1912 with a series of celebrated embroidery designs for the Moscow couture house of Nadezhda Lamanova and immediately established a reputation in Parisian artistic circles with her 1914 costume designs for Diaghilev’s Le Coq d’Or.

When Goncharova settled permanently in Paris three years later, she found a city in thrall to all things Russian. She had already indirectly influenced current fashions with her highly stylised costume designs for the Ballets Russes, aped by voguish designers of the day, when she was approached by Marie Cuttoli to design for her couture house Myrbor. According to her contract, Goncharova was to submit one design a month. Not only did she produce shawls, dresses, coats and carpets for the couture house, but she also designed the company logo, letterhead and advertisements. Goncharova was typically involved in the entire design process. One of her most important sources of visual inspiration had been the brightly coloured clothes and headscarves of the Russian peasant women.

Further highlights
La Princesse Cygne, Study for a Panel in the Koussevitzky Villa (circa 1922), estimate £60,000-80,000. This depiction of the swan princess was created for a wall panel at the top of the staircase in the conductor Serge Koussevitzky’s house in Paris in the 1920s. Goncharova designed the entire interior for his home (including the furniture), as well as the interior of the Parisian house of Mary Hoyt Wiborg, the American socialite.

Eastern Flute Players under a Tree (1924), estimate £20,000-30,000. This is one of several illustrations in the collection that Goncharova produced for the programme of Karagöz, a play based on traditional Turkish shadow puppets. The performance was staged by Julie Sazonova’s marionette theatre in Paris in 1924 (Sazonova was the wife of the Russian émigré artist Nikolai Milioti).

Sotheby’s and Russia
Sotheby’s is the clear and longstanding leader of the Russian art market, with dominant market-share for 12 of the last 13 years, the most established presence in Moscow, and the strongest sales in 2015 to date. Resurgent confidence in the Russian art market was recently confirmed by the sale of Russian Pictures at Sotheby’s London in June which achieved £10.9 million, exceeding the £10.7 million pre-sale high estimate. New buyers are competing with established collectors for the finest works. Last year, 16.5% of clients that participated in our Russian Paintings sales were new to Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s remains at the vanguard in developing the market for Contemporary Art from Russia, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and the CIS countries. The past two years have witnessed the pioneering selling exhibitions At the Crossroads; the only stand-alone auctions of contemporary art from Russian and CIS – Contemporary East; the first ever auction dedicated to Soviet-era photography; and the resounding success of the inaugural 20th Century Art auction last year.

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