During British Intervention in South Russia (1918-1920), St Clair Usher Cunningham was stationed in Transcaucasia [Zakavkaz], a region that lies to the south of the Caucasus Mountains, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, and that comprises the present-day republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. His diary entries provide a fascinating insight into the customs of the region, as well as a record of his diplomatic and humanitarian duties in the former Tsarist provinces of Batum, Kars, Tiflis and Elizavetpol. On 11 May 1919, he writes: '...I have bought some embroidery, a lovely old painting of one of the Shahs of Persia and a couple of modern pictures painted by a fellow here of German extraction...I practice my German on him, but he is not really a German.'
Born in Munich in 1866, Richard Karlovich Zommer studied at the St Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg (1884-1893), receiving several medals and awards. After working in Central Asia from 1890 to the early 1900s, Zommer travelled extensively throughout Transcaucasia, making a particular impact in Georgia where he was one of the founders of the Society of Decorative Arts in Tiflis and a teacher and mentor to one of Georgia's best-known painters, Lado Gudiashvili (1896-1980). Gudiashvili remembered Zommer as an articulate and jovial man with red hair, who always wore a red scarf around his neck: 'I saw him as someone who stepped out of a Rembrandt painting’ (quoted in R. Bolton & E. Strachan, Russian Orientalism: Central Asia and the Caucasus, London, 2009, p. 108).
Zommer's simple landscapes peppered with ethnographic detail are evocative in the same way that Cunningham's letters conjure scenes from everyday life. Zommer's work tells the stories of the people beneath the turquoise sky: the farmer feeling the heat on the walk along the dusty track from market; the woman making her way through the noisy throng on market day; the riders feeling the breeze across the plain as they take a rest from their journey. Represented in museums including the Uzbek State Museum of Arts in Tashkent and regularly appearing at auction houses worldwide, Zommer's work is highly accessible; however, the appearance of this private collection is notable due to the size of the collection offered and the provenance that can be traced directly to the artist.