This season Christie's is once again honoured to present works from the Kapitza Collection. The landmark sale in November 2012, which marked the first time that works from the collection had appeared on the international art market, achieved phenomenal auction records for Boris Kustodiev's The Coachman at £4,409,250 and Aleksandr Shevchenko's The city outskirts which realised £433,250.
Kapitza's achievements in the field of science are world-famous, but it was his enduring friendships with artists, including Boris Kustodiev, Vasilii Shukhaev and Matiros Sarian, that traditionally were lesser-known. In November 2015, Christie’s offers five works from the Kapitza Collection, three by Boris Kustodiev (lots 12-14), a spring scene by Matiros Sarian (lot 15) and a stunning landscape by Vasilii Shukaev (lot 11).
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.
It has been suggested that the present drawing relates to Boris Kustodiev’s 1918 oil depicting a bustling marketplace, Merchants (see V. Voinov, B. Kustodiev, Leningrad, 1926, pl. XVIII). The merchant, with his distinctive ‘watermelon-striped’ hat, echoed by the fruit depicted on the awning in the background, closely resembles the figures huddled in the centre of the larger composition. It is probable that a drawing listed as Merchant, dated to 1916, in M. Etkind’s seminal work on Kustodiev is the present work.