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.
Born in Moscow and orphaned at an early age, Shukhaev trained first at the Stroganov Moscow State University of Arts and Industry where he was taught by Konstantin Korovin (1861-1939) among others and then at the preparatory college for the Imperial Academy of Arts (1906-1912). Two subsequent years studying in Rome definitively informed the artist’s distinctive ‘Neo-Classical’ approach, an aesthetic lauded by his friend and collaborator Alexandre Iacovleff (1887-1938), which resonated in St Petersburg where its merits were extolled by Alexandre Benois (1870-1960) and Mstislav Dobuzhinsky (1875-1957) among others.
In 1935 after fifteen years abroad, living briefly in Finland before settling in Paris, Shukhaev returned to Russia, drawn in no small part by the Neo-Classical foundation of Stalin’s Empire style. Arrested along with his wife in 1937, Shukhaev was sentenced to ten years in a labour camp on suspicion of espionage and sent to Magadan. Two years after his release, he moved to Tbilisi in 1947 where he became a Professor at the Academy of Arts there. Despite his distance from the capital, he was awarded the Soviet Badge of Honour in 1962 with a solo exhibition of his work staged at the Academy of Arts in Leningrad in 1968 in recognition of his 80th birthday.
A gift from the artist to the mother of the present owner in the mid-1960s, The cloud was painted by Shukhaev in Georgia and relates to an earlier composition of the same title held in a private collection. Vibrant to an almost fantastical degree, the warmth and strength of the Georgian sun illuminates the canvas. The works he executed after moving to Georgia, usually in tempera like the present work, are distinguished by his sense of colour, which is very distinct from that of the canvasses produced earlier. Previously known best for his arresting portraits, the summers Shukhaev spent in France from 1921 until his return to Russia painting en plein air lend The cloud its evident mastery of composition and mood.