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Vasily Sitnikov (1915-1987)
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE ITALIAN COLLECTION
Vasily Sitnikov (1915-1987)

Self-portrait with crows by the Kremlin

Details
Vasily Sitnikov (1915-1987)
Self-portrait with crows by the Kremlin
signed in Cyrillic and inscribed in Russian 'A gift for Franco Miele from the author Vasilii Iakovlevich Sitnikov/Moscow E-318 2 Ibragimova street, flat 172.' (lower left); further signed in Cyrillic and dated 'V. Ia. Sitnikov/1970' (reverse)
oil on canvas
25¼ x 36 in. (64 x 91.2 cm.)
Provenance
A gift from the artist to Franco Miele (1924-1983) (inscription and label on the reverse).
A gift from the above to Amedeo Bruno Marchesi in 1980 (inscription on the reverse).
Acquired by the parents of the present owner in Bologna in the early 2000s.
Literature
F. Miele, L’avanguardia tradita. Arte russa dal XIX al XX sec., Rome, 1973, listed p. 543, illustrated p. 475.
Exhibited
Probably: Venice, Palazzetto dello sport all'Arsenale, La nuova arte Sovietica: Una prospettiva non ufficiale, 18 July-10 October 1976 (label on the stretcher), ex. cat.

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Lot Essay

I picture extremely disagreeable weather at the end of the day and a majestic, splendid, divine snowfall of such beauty that it takes your breath away. A snowfall is more beautiful than a vulgar rainbow or sunrises and sunsets.
The enduring popularity of Vasily Sitnikov testifies to the artist’s talent and continuing relevance. Andrey Zagadsky’s 2002 documentary ‘Vasya’ illuminates the artist’s inimitable thirst for life but in detailing the popularity Sitnikov enjoyed with the ex-pat community in Soviet Russia, one might have expected Sitnikov’s work to have vanished in the absence of his irresistible persona. In fact, Sitnikov’s work has achieved significant commercial success and artistic recognition posthumously, thanks in no small part to a major solo exhibition of his work in Moscow in 2009, which successfully showcased works spanning his career.
The popularity of his ‘Monastery’ paintings with foreigners living in and visiting Moscow provoked Sitnikov to produce more, many of which his students painted parts of to varying degrees. As such, Sitnikov’s inscription to Franco Miele, an art critic who along with Alberto Morgante and Alberto Sandretti lent non-conformist works to Venice’s Bienniale of Dissent in 1977, which denotes this painting as a gift is all the more affecting.
The present work is characteristically ripe with humour and fantasy, the black crows [vorony], possibly an oblique reference to the KGB, whose cars, [voronki] were thus named for their menacing black appearance and whose headquarters at Lubyanka were not far from Sitnikov’s apartment.
Despite his incarceration first in jail and then in a psychiatric institute, Sitnikov’s contemporaries are consistent in their description of the artist’s energy and enthusiasm; Vladimir Titov describes his metre-wide steps devouring the pavement, the way in which he ascended the escalator, leaping the steps two at a time (quoted in Vasilii Sitnikov i ego shkola [and his school], St Petersburg, 2009, p. 25). Depicted in a self-portrait lower right the artist is however a mere puff of smoke, the edge of fog. Where a quick glance at the fantastic photographs of Sitnikov in his studio beaming, contorting, grimacing are very kinetic (indeed his students were forbidden from working sitting down), this is how he chooses to present himself. As such the understated self-portrait serves to confirm what is logically inescapable; an artist with as powerful an ability to control perspective and convey character is inevitably sometimes the quiet observer.

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