Masterpieces by Petr Konchalovsky, Konstantin Korovin Alexandre Iacovleff, Isaak Levitan, and Boris Grigoriev highlight the Russian Art sale at Christie’s in London this November


Almost 500 lots of Russian Art, including fine paintings, Works of Art and unique pieces of neo-Russian furniture consigned from important European and American private collections,  will be included in Christie’s Russian Art sale on 29 November, 2010 which is expected to fetch in the region of £10 million. A separate press release for the Works of Art section is available.

An important group of four paintings by Petr Konchalovsky (1876-1956), one of the most popular artists in Russia during his lifetime, highlights the picture section of the sale. The group is led by his rare and masterful 1908 work “Versailles. L’Allée.” (estimate: £800,000 - £1,200,000). The work has never been offered for sale before but was exhibited in 2002 at the State Pushkin Museum’s exhibition, Unknown Konchalovsky and subsequently at the seminal exhibition of the artist’s works, first at the State Russian Museum in St.Petersburg and then at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow in 2010.

Versailles. L’Allée” was painted by Konchalovsky during his visit to Arles, where Van Gogh had also sought refuge. The influence of the great Dutch painter strengthened and clarified Konchalovsky’s composition, lending it renewed vigour. The rich palette of “Versailles. L’Allée.”, and Konchalovsky’s expressive and flamboyant brush strokes owe much to Van Gogh. . Highly exacting and self-critical, Konchalovsky destroyed a number of works from this period, further underlining the significance and rarity of “Versailles. L’Allée”.

From 1909 a leading figure of the Russian Avant-Garde and a founding member of Jack of Diamonds group, Konchalovsky exhibited frequently with the Golden Fleece, Fraternity, Mir Iskusstva and New Society of Artists. In 1922 his first solo exhibition was held at the State Tretyakov Gallery, 2 years later, he showed his work in New York, Venice and Moscow to critical acclaim. The sale includes two works from the end of his career; “Still life. Oranges and radish. Kislovodsk.” (estimate: £350,000-£450,000), 1934, and “Still life. Tobacco leaves” (estimate: £100,000-£200,000), 1931. The fourth work, “A small garden near Rome”, painted in 1904, represents Konchalovsky’s early period, and marks his first foray into Impressionism. 

Other artists represented in the sale include Konstantin Korovin (1861-1939) whose “A lady in white seated in a garden” is a celebration of colour and light that characterizes the artist’s mature oeuvre (estimate £800,000-1,200,000). By 1915, when this work was painted, Korovin had rejected his more monochromatic palette in favour of a bolder spectrum, which he felt expressed “nature’s very breath”. Although it is not known where the picture was painted, the composition has much in common with Korovin’s works from Gurzuf, where the artist spent his summers from 1910-1917.

A second work by Korovin, “In the artist’s studio”, comes from the same private collection as the work described above and was originally acquired directly from the artist by the collector and art dealer Semen Belits.. In 1892, Korovin settled in Paris where he was to spend the next two years. The self-portrait shows the artist at work in the very place that Korovin claimed to be “an escape from a world of baseness, evil and unfairness” (estimate: £300,000-500,000). The painting has not been seen for 30 years and its existence was only known to a small group of academics, including I. Zilberstein, who reproduced the work in his “Konstantin Korovin vspominaet”, published in 1971.

An iconic image from the Croisière Noire expedition, “Aoua, Femme Banda” is an extraordinary work of artistic reportage painted by Alexandre Iacovleff (1887-1938) and estimated at £750,000-£950,000. Widely exhibited and illustrated in numerous publications, the painting is testimony to Iacovleff’s ability to elevate his portraiture above factual ethnographic documentation. The expedition reached Yalinga in January 1925, where “Aoua, Femme Banda” was painted. This stylised portrait, conveying Iacovleff’s passion for construction and precise ethnographic detail, shows a sensitivity and humanity typical of the artist. Upon his return to Paris in 1926, Iacovleff exhibited his work to great acclaim at the Galerie Charpentier and the Louvre. Recognised as one of the defining and enduring images of the Croisière Noire, “Aoua, Femme Banda” was originally in the personal collection of the leader of the expedition, Georges-Marie Haardt, and has not appeared at auction for over forty years.  

Isaak Levitan’s (1860-1900)“By the water’s edge” (estimate £300,000-£500,000) has remained in a distinguished private collection for three generations. . The work captures the age-old passion the Russian people feel for their vast and eternal land in a beautiful naturalistic setting. The composition and arrangement of the riverbank draws the eyes of the viewer into the painting, enticed by his evocative brushstrokes. The illusion of dappled light, created with subtle gradation of colour and application of paint, lends the work depth and perspective.  

The “Great Pyramid at Giza painted by Ivan Aivazovsky (1817-1900) in 1878 is a rare treasure appearing on the market (estimate: £300,000-500,000). In the incomplete list of 693 works compiled in 1892 by the artist’s biographer Nikolai Sobko, only seven paintings depicting Egypt are listed. In Nikolai Barsamov’s 1962 list of 550 paintings by Aivazovsky in the collections of Soviet Museums there is only one: “The Pyramids” (1855), part of the Yaroslav Museum.

Lauded by many as the greatest maritime artist of his time, Aivazovsky’s genius lay above all in his capacity for capturing light. In his celebrated seascapes his talent allowed him to breathe life into water; the desert provided a new medium for further experimentation. In the present work, the apex of the Great Pyramid provides the compositional centre of the work, bathed in light, while the Nile glistens in the background.

Boris Grigoriev’s (1886-1939) “Sailing boat in a cubist landscape” (estimate £250,000-350,000) was executed in the early 1920s after the artist had settled in France. From 1921 to 1926 Grigoriev made the journey every summer to work in the quiet provincial corner of Brittany he so loved. The vibrant result of these summer escapes from city life became the famous Breton cycle. Essentially Brittany, with its archaic cultural context, crystal clearness, structured medieval architecture forms and richly coloured landscapes provided Grigoriev with both new visual material and new ideas in terms of composition, texture and colour.

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