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    Sale 7629

    Russian Pictures Part I

    26 November 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 255

    Alexandra Exter (1882-1949)

    A costume design for Romeo and Juliet: Juliet

    Price Realised  


    Alexandra Exter (1882-1949)
    A costume design for Romeo and Juliet: Juliet
    signed with Cyrillic initials 'A. E.' (lower left)
    pencil, gouache and oil, heightened with gold, on board
    18 7/8 x 13½ in. (47.9 x 34.3 cm.)
    Painted in 1920-1921

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    Alexandra Exter, a formidable 'Amazon of the Avant-garde', was commissioned by the director Alexander Tairov to create the stage and costume designs for his 1921 production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Known for her inventive and uncompromising attitude towards design, Exter was always at the forefront of artistic development yet never restricted by one defining style or movement, as the artist A. V. Grishchenko commented, '...For every new season in Art, Madame Exter made a fashionable hat from Impressionism, Cubism and Futurism.'

    Having embarked on the project in 1918, Exter constructed a number of scale models which enabled her to physically realise her initial sketches. For Exter, it was not only form and silhouette which were of great importance, but also the texture and properties of the materials used. To increase the impact of her designs, Exter juxtaposed the opaque with the transparent and the shining with the dull in the same way as she synthesized the forces of Cubism, Constructivism and Futurism. The intensity of the reds, oranges and yellows which enflame the costume design for Juliet are testament to Exter's evocative use of colour, which was further enhanced by a set comprising several bridges, rope ladders, mirrors and other reflective surfaces.

    First performed on 17 May 1921 at the Kamerny Theatre, Moscow, this production of Romeo and Juliet incorporated some of the most striking and daring costume designs of the period. As the main exponent of 'Synthetic Theatre', Tairov embraced Exter's challenging work as he believed that theatre was an art in itself and that a production should not be subservient to the text. As such, although Tairov's Romeo and Juliet was not a commercial success, Exter's sculptural designs secured the production's enduring importance to modern theatre design.

    It was from Tairov's wife, Alisa Koonen, the actress who played Juliet in the original production, that the well-known collector of Russian avant-garde art, George Costakis, acquired the present work circa 1962. The significance of the Costakis Collection is described by Angelica Rudenstine, in her preface to the catalogue for its 1981 exhibition: The George Costakis Collection of Russian and Soviet art of the avant-garde [...] was assembled in Moscow over a period of thirty years. By the time Costakis left his Moscow home in 1977 to settle in Athens, his collection had become the single most comprehensive 'museum' of such art in the world.

    As the Soviet art historian Vasilii Rakitin has testified, the mere existence of such a collection played a commanding role in the artistic life of Moscow, particularly during the 1960's. In the Soviet Union, the collection served as a visible and living documentation of an otherwise buried past; it stimulated creativity and gave courage to innumerable contemporary soviet artists who continuously visited the Costakis home.

    When Costakis left Moscow, he donated the greater part of his holdings to the Tretyakov Gallery. Under his supervision, photographs were made of one hundred twenty-two of the works in this gift, but not of the remainder. Thus, the Tretyakov works published [...] represent only a selection from the full Costakis collection held by the museum. (A. Rudenstine, ed. The George Costakis Collection: Russian Avant-Garde Art, London, 1981, p. 9).

    Since the landmark sale of the Costakis Collection in 1990, where the present costume design was acquired, opportunities to acquire such high-calibre works sharing this impeccable provenance are extremely rare.

    Special Notice

    VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 15% on the buyer's premium


    Alisa Koonen, the actress who performed the role of Juliet in the 1921 production of Romeo and Juliet at the Kamerny Theatre, Moscow.
    Acquired from the above by George Costakis circa 1962, Moscow and Athens.
    Russian Avant-Garde Pictures from the Collection formed by George Costakis; Sotheby's, London, 4 April 1990, lot 510.
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

    Pre-Lot Text



    Exhibition catalogue, Sammlung Costakis, Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, 1977, no. 18, illustrated.
    A. Rudenstine ed., S. F. Starr & G. Costakis, The George Costakis Collection: Russian Avant-Garde Art, London, 1981, p. 102, illustrated, no. 46.
    Exhibition catalogue, Ryskt avantgarde, George Costakis samling, Stockholm Moderna Museet, 1983, p. 285, illustrated, fig. 246. Exhibition catalogue, Russische Avantgarde aus der Sammlung Costakis, Lenbachhaus, Münich, 1984, no. 249, illustrated. Exhibition catalogue, The Russian and Soviet avant-garde: works from the collection of George Costakis, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1989, illustrated, fig. 45, pl. xxvii.


    Düsseldorf, Kunstmuseum, Werke aus der Sammlung Costakis: Russische Avantgarde 1910-1930, 1977, no. 18.
    New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Russian avant-garde art: The George Costakis Collection, 1981-1982, no. 249.
    Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Ryskt Avantgarde, George Costakis samling, 1983, no. 246. Münich and Hanover, Kestner Gesellschaft and Lenbachhaus, Russische Avantgarde aus der Sammlung Costakis, 1984, no. 249.
    Helsinki, Kapungin Taidemuseo and Helsingfors Stads Konstmuseum, Russian Avant Garde from the George Costakis Collection, 1984, no. 246. Montreal, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, The Russian and Soviet Avant-Garde: Works from the Collection of George Costakis, 1989, no. 45.