Audio (English): Boris Kustodiev, The Coachman
Audio (Russian): Boris Kustodiev, The Coachman
Boris Kustodiev (1878-1927)
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VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 2… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE KAPITZA COLLECTION, MOSCOW Peter Kapitza (1894-1984) One of the most celebrated scientists of modern times, Peter Leonidovich Kapitza (1894-1984), recipient of the 1978 Nobel Prize for Physics, was uniquely positioned at the intersection of science and politics, where the East met the West, during some of the most radical turning points of the 20th century. A giant in his field, renowned for his penetrating intellect and ingenuity, Kapitza possessed a passion for scientific enquiry that drove him to continue his research, often in extreme and debilitating circumstances. During his lifetime Kapitza was forced to rebuild his life and his laboratory on more than one occasion, proof of a stalwart resilience and determination that were defining characteristics of his formidable personality. A courageous man and loyal friend, Kapitza used his political weight to defend his colleagues during the purges of the 1930s, and was one of very few individuals who dared to voice criticism of Soviet officials and policies - often addressing his concerns to Stalin personally - and survived. This season, Christie's is honoured to present two works from Peter Kapitza's personal art collection; Boris Kustodiev's The Coachman (lot 102) and Aleksandr Shevchenko's The city outskirts (lot 103). The Coachman, a major work by Kustodiev, was singled out by the art historian Vsevolod Voinov for praise when Kustodiev first showed him the works that he had prepared for the 1924 Russian Art exhibition in New York. In his diary entry from 4th September 1923, Voinov remarked that 'The Coachman is excellent' (B. A. Kapralov, Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev, Leningrad, 1967, p. 257). Until now, while much has been known about Kapitza's achievements in the field of science, little has been documented about his enduring relationships with artists, including Kustodiev, to whom he was both a friend and patron. > >Kapitza returned to the Polytechnical Institute in St Petersburg in 1916 after military service and resumed his studies at the Electromechanics faculty under the physics professor A. F. Joffé. It was here that he met fellow student Nikolai Semenov (1896-1986), who later received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1956. According to Irina Borisovna, Kustodiev's daughter, it was through Semenov, the brother-in-law of a family friend, that Kapitza was first introduced to the Kustodievs in 1919. Irina recalls how Kapitza became a familiar face at their home, playing charades and pranks on the guests. His favourite party trick involved 'swallowing' knives and forks (B. A. Kapralov, Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev, Leningrad, 1967, p. 325-326). Two years later, Kustodiev, when jokingly accused by Kapitza and Semenov of favouring society figures as subjects for his portraits, responded by offering to paint the portrait of the two young scientists who, in his view, would someday be as famous as those whose portraits he had already painted. The friendship was sealed; Kustodiev's prediction was realised shortly afterwards. > In 1921 Kapitza arrived in the United Kingdom, accompanying Joffé on a mission to engage with the scientific community in the West. For Kapitza, this trip provided him with an escape from an agonizing personal tragedy; he had lost his father, wife and two children in the aftermath of the Civil War. At Cambridge University, he was introduced to Sir Ernest Rutherford who was immediately impressed by the talented scientist and invited him to work at his Cavendish Laboratory. What had been originally conceived as a short trip turned into an extended stay lasting thirteen years. In Cambridge Kapitza flourished; he gained his Ph.D. in 1923 and in 1925 was appointed assistant director of magnetic research and was elected to a fellowship at Trinity College. In 1929 he was elected FRS and became a corresponding member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In his personal life Kapitza also found fulfilment, in 1927 he married Anna Alekseevna Krylova, daughter of the Academician A. N. Krylov, with whom he had two sons. > Throughout this period, Kapitza remained in close contact with his friends and family in Russia and regularly returned to visit. From Kustodiev's letters to Kapitza in 1922, the warmth of the friendship is clear; Kustodiev thanks Kapitza for his welcome parcel containing milk, and implores him to send Cambridge oil paints, in short supply in Russia (fig. 1). After capturing Kapitza's likeness in 1921, Kustodiev went on to paint his portrait several times, even concealing him in the crowd in Festivities Marking the Opening of the Second Congress of the Comintern and Demonstration on Uritsky Square in Petrograd in July 19th 1920 (fig. 2). After Kustodiev's death in 1927, Kapitza continued to remain close to Kustodiev's family and acquired The Coachman directly from Iulia Evstafievna, Kustodiev's widow, in 1936. By this time, Kapitza was living permanently in Moscow; in 1934, following a holiday to the USSR, Kapitza was refused permission by the authorities to return to Cambridge. Although Kapitza eloquently argued for what he considered to be his right as a scientist to come and go across international boundaries, his pleas were ignored and he eventually agreed to become the director of a new Institute for Physical Problems in Moscow, built especially to his requirements. > In Moscow, Kapitza continued to make significant contributions to the techniques of gas liquefaction; and by the end of World War II he was in charge of the Soviet oxygen industry and received the highest government decoration, the hero of socialist labour. However, Kapitza's outspoken views were a source of much aggravation to L. P. Beria, who by that time was in charge of the Soviet atom bomb project. It is a sign of Kapitza's influence and the respect and admiration he commanded, that as a punishment for his repeated criticism of Soviet administration he was only dismissed from the project and stripped of his directorship. Others were less fortunate and did not escape so lightly. For the next seven years Kapitza lived at his dacha outside Moscow, where he again started from scratch and built his own laboratory, pursuing his own research and operating outside the political arena. > After Stalin's death and Beria's subsequent removal, Kapitza's status was publicly restored and he was reinstated at the institute. By the time of his death in 1984, Kapitza had outlived his oppressors and overcome the political obstacles that threatened to impede his research. Until the end he maintained his independence and integrity; he was the only member of the presidium of the Soviet Academy of Sciences that was not a member of the Communist Party.
Boris Kustodiev (1878-1927)

The Coachman

Boris Kustodiev (1878-1927)
The Coachman
signed and dated 'B. Koustodieff/1923' (lower right); with partial artist's label (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
38¾ x 32 1/8 in. (98.3 x 81.5 cm.)
Iulia Evstafievna Kustodieva (inscription on the slip).
Acquired from the above by Peter Kapitza (1894-1984) in 1936.
By direct descent to the present owner.
Exhibition catalogue, The Russian art exhibition, New York, 1924, illustrated no. 419, listed p. [38].
'The World of Art: The Russians and Others', New York Times, 9 March 1924.
V. Voinov, B. M. Kustodiev, Leningrad, 1925, listed p. 87 as 'Izvozchik'.
Exhibition catalogue, Proizvedeniia Kustodieva [Kustodiev's art], Leningrad, 1928, no. 205.
Exhibition catalogue, Posmertnaia vystavka proizvedenii B.M. Kustodieva [Posthumous exhibition of B. M. Kustodiev's oeuvre], Moscow, 1929, no. 36 as 'Likhach'.
Exhibition catalogue, Vystavka proizvedenii russkogo iskusstva kontsa XIX i nachala XX vekov [Exhibition of Russian art of the late XIX and early XX centuries], Moscow, 1957.
M. Etkind, Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev, Leningrad-Moscow, 1960,
listed p. 204 as 'Likhach.
Exhibition catalogue, Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev, Moscow, 1960, listed p. 58.
V. Lebedeva, Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev, Moscow, 1966, p. 49.
B. Kustodiev, M. Etkind (ed.) and B. Kapralov (ed.), Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev. Pisma. Stati, zametki, interviu. Vstrechi i besedy s B. M. Kustodievym. Vospominaniia o khudozhnike. [Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev. Letters. Articles, notes, interviews. Meetings and conversations with B. M. Kustodiev. Recollections about the artist.], Leningrad, 1967, pp. 257-258 as 'Izvozchik'.
I. Grabar, Pisma. 1917-1941 [Letters. 1917-1941], Moscow, 1977 pp. 109, 333, 342.
V. Lebedeva, Boris Kustodiev: The artist and his work, Moscow, 1981, p. 53 as Cabman.
M. Etkind, Boris Kustodiev, Moscow, 1982, illustrated p. 207, listed pp. 206, 232, 451 as 'Likhach.
M. Etkind, Boris Kustodiev, New York, Leningrad, 1983, illustrated pl. 122 as A smart driver.

New York, Grand Central Art Galleries, The Russian Art Exhibition, 1924, no. 419 (label on the stretcher).
Harbin, Tokyo and Aomori, Peredvizhnaia vystavka sovetskogo iskusstva v Iaponii [A travelling exhibition of Soviet art in Japan], 1926-1927.
Leningrad, State Russian Museum, Proizvedeniia Kustodieva [Kustodiev's art], 1928, no. 205 (with number and inscription on the stretcher).
Moscow, Pushkin Fine Museum of Arts, Posmertnaia vystavka proizvedenii B.M. Kustodieva [Posthumous exhibition of B. M. Kustodiev's oeuvre], 1929, no. 36.
Moscow, Tsentral'nii Dom Rabotnikov Iskusstv SSSR [Central House of Labourers in Art in the USSR], Vystavka proizvedenii russkogo iskusstva kontsa XIX i nachala XX vekov [Exhibition of Russian art of the late XIX and early XX centuries], 1957.
Moscow, Russian Academy of Arts, Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev. 1878-1927, 1960 (label on the stretcher).
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Anna Belousova
Anna Belousova

Lot Essay

In 1924 in New York The Russian Art Exhibition opened at Grand Central Palace, presenting to an international audience a selection of work by 100 of Russia's finest contemporary artists. As the esteemed art historian and a key organiser of the exhibition, Igor Grabar, proclaimed: 'In the whole history of Art, so unusual, so unique, so almost fantastic an event has never before occurred.' (Exhibition catalogue, The Russian art exhibition, New York, 1924, p. 7). A New York Times article devoted to the exhibition commented with insight: 'However calmly they attempt to judge the vast group of paintings now in the Grand Central Palace, however learnedly they go over the historic groundwork of their development, nothing is so apparent as the fierce pulse of emotion beating through their words, and whatever New York, bent on its thousand missions, clear and cool of vision, may think of the exhibition, to its organisers it presents a tragic and heroic face, the face of a spiritual Russia struggling against degradation and death.' ('The World of Art: The Russians and Others', New York Times, 9 March 1924). The image selected from over 900 works to represent this lofty aim? Boris Kustodiev's The Coachman. Presented here at auction for the first time in history and offered from the prestigious Kapitza Collection, in the wake of the 1917 Revolution and World War I, against a backdrop of tremendous social change and a new world order, this iconic painting became the emblem of this bold venture, encapsulating in an image the Russia that Russians chose to present to the world. In the words of the émigré Count Ilya Tolstoy, 'I am not an art critic. I did not come to see the pictures: I came to see Russia and that it what I saw.' (Ibid). It is difficult to overestimate the extent to which the work of Kustodiev and crucially The Coachman itself is seared into the minds and hearts of the Russian people.

Kustodiev was born in Astrakhan where the mighty Volga flows into the Caspian Sea. Although there was no art school in the region, the arrival of the 15th Exhibition of Itinerant Artists, which included portraits by Repin and Kramskoi, is said to have made a significant impression on the nine-year-old Kustodiev. Repin became an almost God-like figure in the aspiring artist's eyes and was to have much influence on his subsequent career. After entering the St Petersburg Academy of Art in 1896 Kustodiev was granted entry into Repin's studio in February 1898, where he studied with Ivan Kulikov, Filipp Maliavin and Alexander Murashko. The established artist quickly acknowledged that 'This talented youth, whose success has made such an impression and who comes from some place on the Volga and has studied under some unknown teacher, is the pride of our Academy, our greatest hope.' (quoted in M. Etkind, Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev, Leningrad-Moscow, 1960, p. 249). While Kustodiev began his career as a portraitist and created a number of excellent works in this sphere, the finest of which depict his wife, children or close friends, his fate was not to become Repin's successor. In locating his own subject matter, at the heart of which lay the Russian provinces, Kustodiev was instead destined to become the portrait painter of Russia herself.

The author of more than one excellent and incisive monograph on Kustodiev, the art historian Victoria Lebedeva suggests that in many of his portraits and particularly the formal commissions, the artist displays a tendency to amuse himself with characteristic irony by painting á la Serov, who he much admired or Repin or the Swedish artist Anders Zorn (1860-1911), with whom he had became much enamoured with in the wake of Diaghilev's exhibition of Scandinavian art in St Petersburg in 1897. Capable of producing brilliant works in this vein, Kustodiev's utmost ability was revealed in the paintings in which he addressed his own subject matter. He admired a broad range of artists: from Velasquez and the Italian Renaissance Masters to Aleksei Venetsianov (1780-1847), the 1911 exhibition of whom he found utterly revelatory, and the late 18th Century Russian masters Dmitry Levitsky, Fyodor Rokotov and Vladimir Borovikovsky with whom he became acquainted at Diaghilev's 1905 Tauride Palace Exhibition. Of course Kustodiev's content was informed by his context: like Goncharova, Larionov and the Abramtsevo generation preceding them, he was much interested in folk art: Zhostovo tray painting, Vyatka figurines; customs and dances, recording songs and chastushki (comic folk verses). He may also be accused of romanticising his subject matter in the manner of his fellow World of Art member Konstantin Somov. Irrespective to these unifying factors, in execution Kustodiev stands alone, the works he created immediately discernible by his distinctive style and truly without analogy.

The Coachman belongs to series of works depicting national types, which was first realised with a collection of watercolours executed in 1920. His choice of subject matter continues a well-established proclivity for such a project in the history of Russian Art, surely indicative of a pervasive longing to capture the intangible quality of Russianness. Consider Alexander Orlovsky's (1777-1832) Russian types (see lot 46), those of Ignaty Shchedrovsky (1815-1870) and Vasily Timm (1820-1895) and more recently Kustodiev's contemporary and friend Mstislav Dobuzhinsky (1875-1957). Kustodiev's types, painted from the imagination with their foundation in observation, are not portraits but the presentation of an archetype. Like the precursor to the series, The balloon seller (1915, State Russian Museum, St Petersburg), our coachman is not an individual but a figure ubiquitous in towns all over Russia. By 1923 we know him well, indeed our affection for him has only increased with familiarity from his cameo roles in paintings such as The Freezing Day (1913, The Radishchev State Art Museum, Saratov) where he drives past in his sleigh or in A Moscow Tavern where he is seated sipping tea (1916, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow).

Lebedeva suggests that paradox lies at the heart of Kustodiev's work, that the initial impression of his work and that achieved on further contemplation are likely to be polar opposites. Does this hold true applied to The Coachman? It depicts a booming man, laughing and welcoming, the flat opaque surface and planes of colour reminiscent of a poster. Is there some sinister undercurrent? Some elaborate irony? Certainly the picture is stylised, realist but fantastical, the snow a little bright, the smile a little wide, the figure exaggerated by the chosen perspective, strongly outlined against the sky. But as Christian Brinton, author of the foreword to the 1924 Central Palace exhibition catalogue rightly suggests, 'With the Russian temperament one never, in fact, quite knows when the world of objective reality may dissolve before the beckoning smile of a Swan Princess, or the enigmatic smile of Jar-Ptitza' (Exhibition catalogue, The Russian art exhibition, New York, 1924, p. 3). In fact there is little to malign our initial impression of sheer pleasure. Although certainly the coachman's face is suspiciously reddened by the cold (might he have indulged in a drop or two?). Perhaps the coachman's foibles are easier to regard indulgently, his weakness for the demon drink less off-putting than the smugness of Kustodiev's well-fed kupchikhi, the vanity of their laden dressing tables and the silliness of their gossip. It is impossible to look at The Coachman and not feel the light and warmth of Kustodiev's irrepressibly sunny disposition, persistently startling to his biographers. Plagued by ill health, the first symptoms of which appeared in early August 1909 and were subsequently diagnosed as tuberculosis of the bone in 1911, from late 1916 Kustodiev was confined to a specially adapted chair for the remainder of his life. Despite this, he created many of his finest works in the last decade of his life, which proved a period of continuous creative activity. Kustodiev was himself unable to explain his optimism, writing to his wife on 26th February 1912 from his convalescence in Leysin: 'Despite everything I am sometimes surprised at my light-hearted disposition, a kind of obstinate ingrained joy of life, simply being happy to be alive, to look at the blue sky and the mountains and be thankful for that.' (quoted in V. A. Kapralov (Ed.), B. M. Kustodiev, Leningrad, 1967, p. 122). This irrepressible optimism, surely supported by his vehement love of Russia, is perceivable in all of his finest works, The Coachman included: 'I think that a picture, whatever its subject may be, should draw its force from the love and interest the painter is moved by in conveying its mood.' (quoted in Ibid, p. 62).

Painted in 1923, eight years after Malevich completed his Black Square, The Coachman is in many ways timeless. Kustodiev's ability to express the eternal qualities of the Russian soul and not merely their current manifestation is precisely what rendered the work so suitable as the poster for the 1924 Grand Central Exhibition. Kustodiev's words: 'I do not know whether or not I have succeeded to do and express in my works that which I wished - a love of life, joy, and vitality, devotion to all that Russia means to us - these have always been the solo subject of my pictures' (quoted in Ibid, p. 181), can be viewed in some sense as a manifesto. On contemplating The Coachman, arms outstretched and welcoming, a Father Russia of sorts, Kustodiev's characteristic modesty is evident: there can be no doubt that this most Russian of Russian painters was entirely successful in expressing all that he hoped.

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