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Tracing its origins to Rurik, the ninth century founder of the first ruling dynasty of Russia, the Obolensky family has been very influential throughout Russian history, producing generations of soldiers and statesmen, a hallowed tradition steadfastly upheld by the family.
This important selection of works from the collection of Prince Ivan Obolensky is inseparable from the history of this extraordinary family. This kind of historical intimacy is an increasingly rare trait of works of art offered at auction.
Only few of the Russians forced into exile in the aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution were lucky enough to escape with any of their possessions, and extremely lucky if those possessions were of significant value. Some of the exiled Russian aristocrats found themselves in a position to begin acquiring works of art, at times attempting to recover their own property, when it turned up on the international market. It is in this way that Prince Serge Obolensky, father of Ivan, acquired a large part of his collection of Russian works of art.
Ivan Obolensky was born in 1925 in London to Prince Serge Obolensky (1809-1978) and Ava Alice Muriel Astor (1902-1956), daughter of John Jacob Astor IV (1864-1912) and Ava Lowle Willing (1868-1958).
Ivan’s father Serge was born in the autumn of 1890 on his family estate at Tsarskoe Selo. He was the eldest son of Prince Platon Obolensky (1850-1913), a man with a distinguished military record who at one time served as aide-de-camp to Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich (1847-1909), and Marie Naryshkin (1861-1929), who descended from the influential boyar family that became allied with the ruling House of Romanov in the 17th century. One of Platon Obolensky’s ancestors was a leading general under Ivan the Terrible. Known as the 'Silver Prince', according to legend, he became the sole protector of the Obolensky line, having miraculously evaded Ivan's brutal suppressions of independent princes. The exploits of the 'Silver Prince' inspired numerous poems and stories, most famously A.K. Tolstoy's eponymous story.
If military training and service were de rigueur for young men of aristocratic birth, they were particularly emphasised in the Obolensky family because of the presence of military heroes in the family such as Field Marshal Alexander Suvorov (1729-1800), great-great-great grandfather of Ivan Obolensky. Ivan Obolensky continued this family tradition when he served in World War II in the United States Navy as a pilot, serving alongside his father Serge, who at the time was Lieutenant-Colonel with the U.S. paratroopers as well as a member of the Office of Strategic Services.
Serge Obolensky arrived first arrived in England in 1912 in order to complete his education at Oxford. Subsequently he volunteered to serve in the Chevalier Guards enrolling in 1914 as a private. He fought on the eastern front with bravery and after the revolution escaped from Russia together with his first wife, Princess Catherine Yourievsky (1878-1959). In London, after the couple began increasingly to drift apart, the marriage ended in an amicable divorce. Subsequently Serge began to share an apartment with his cousin Prince Felix Yusupov (1887-1967), who is best known for his part in the assassination of Rasputin. It was at that time that Serge met Ava Alice Muriel Astor, with whom he would share a decade in a happy and prosperous marriage.
Serge Obolensky acquired a large part of his collection of important Russian works of art in London. Of Mark Antokol'skii's exceptional marble bust of Ivan the Terrible, sold Christie's New York, 9 April 2014 for $269,000, he wrote; 'The original small bust, simply the head and the shoulders, went through many vicissitudes. It was taken out of Russia after the Revolution and wound up in my possession in London. It finally came to rest in my son’s house in Rhinebeck, New York. A superb piece of characterization in stone, it shows eloquently the sculptor’s struggle to understand Ivan, his greatness as an administrator, his brooding malignance, and his cruelty.' (Serge Obolensky, A Man in His Time: The Memoirs of Serge Obolensky, New York, 1958, p. 17).
Years later, in New York, Serge Obolensky became a hotel business legend, managing the public relations and operations of renowned hotels such as the St Regis, the Plaza, the Sherry-Netherland, the Ambassador and the Astor, all which benefited greatly both from his business acumen and from his famed charismatic flair. He died in 1978, leaving behind an extraordinary legacy.
Ivan Obolensky graduated from Yale and began his career as a writer. Following his service in the United States Navy, he founded a publishing firm, McDowell, Obolensky, Inc., based in New York, which published a number of prize winning novels, as well as his father's memoirs.
After a successful career in publishing, Ivan Obolensky switched to investment banking. He continues the job to this day, covering many prestigious accounts. Obolensky has been actively involved in philanthropic activities in New York, such as the Musicians Emergency Fund. He is also active in The Soldiers', Sailors', Marines', Coast Guard and Airmen's Club, The Russian Nobility Association, and the New York Prior of the Orthodox Order of St John.
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF PRINCE IVAN OBOLENSKY