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Important Russian Art at MacDougall’s – highlights of the auction in June 2018

On June 6th, 2018 leading Russian art auction house MacDougall’s is hosting their next auction in London.

Konstantin Somov’s “Meeting in the Park” (£500,000–700,000), dated 1919, is to be offered at the upcoming auction. The so-called “gallant scene” is different from earlier works of the artist due to its lyricism and naïveté and refers to the period when a series of compositions, depicting young ladies and their beaux, were created. Difficult post-revolutionary experiences manifested themselves in Somov’s creation of cheerful scenes conveying the carefree attitudes of the subjects in his paintings. The sitter depicted in the painting is the very same woman featured in his painting “Summer” (1919), now part of the Russian Museum collection. The artist once mentioned that women in his pictures reflect himself as much as his “mockery of the eternal feminine that is repugnant to my being.”

Konstantin Somov. Pine Meeting in the Park. Oil on canvas, 40.5 by 31 cm. 1919
Konstantin Somov (1869-1939)
Meeting in the Park. Oil on canvas,
40.5 by 31 cm. 1919

An important event for MacDougall's will be the appearance of Pavel Kuznetsov’s “Fountain” (£250,000–500,000), dated 1904, at the upcoming auction. The signature fountain image characteristic of the painter’s art represents the manifestation of symbolism in paintings that stood at the origins of the “Silver Age” of Russian culture. Even before the foundation of the “Blue Rose” art group, fountains had already appeared in the paintings of Pavel Kuznetsov between 1904 and 1907. Taking into account that a major part of the artwork made by Pavel Kuznetsov was destroyed in the fire at the Black Swan villa in 1911, the present work of art is particularly important as some of the only surviving legacy of the artist. The Black Swan villa belonged to Nikolain Ryabushinsky – a patron of the “Blue Rose” and a collector of Kuznetsov's paintings.

Pavel Kuznetsov. Fountain. Oil on canvas, 64 by 87 cm. 1904
Pavel Kuznetsov (1878-1968)
Fountain. Oil on canvas,
64 by 87 cm. 1904

The portrait “La liseuse endormie, Madeleine Castaing” (£300,000–500,000), painted in c. 1937 by Chaïm Soutine, is primarily characterised by its grotesque representation and the unusual angle, which makes it particularly expressive. Considering that the depicted model was a good friend and patron of the artist, this portrait has a direct relation to the biography of Chaïm Soutine. Madeleine Castaing often posed for Soutine, who, despite his impetuous character, trusted her immensely and would often ask for her advice during a rendition. Passionate art connoisseurs and prominent collectors in Paris, Madeleine and Marcellin Castaing owned the paintings of such artists as Modigliani, Rouault, Picasso, Gris, Leger, and it is they themselves who were the main collectors of the works of art of Chaïm Soutine.

Chaim Soutine. La liseuse endormie, Madeleine Castaing. Oil on canvas, 57 by 41.5 cm. c. 1937
Chaim Soutine (1893-1943)
La liseuse endormie, Madeleine Castaing. Oil on canvas,
57 by 41.5 cm. c. 1937

Prominent landscape master Ivan Shishkin’s “Pine Forest. Yelbuga” (£800,000–1,200,000), dated 1897, is the most important piece of the upcoming auction. From its catalogue description, the almost one-and-a-half-metre-tall canvas is a remake of Shishkin’s earlier painting “Pine Forest. Sukhostoi”. The tradition to remake particularly precious landscapes was a characteristic feature of Ivan Shishkin’s work. This aspect is reflected in the present painting, where the composition of “Pine Forest. Sukhostoi” is repeated on canvas with hardly any noticeable changes. Possibly, “Pine Forest. Yelbuga” was part of the Itinerant exhibitions of Ivan Shishkin, where it was displayed together with the painting “Pine Forest. Sukhostoi”. The period of creation of “Pine Forest. Yelbuga” falls on the later years of Ivan Shishkin’s life, which represent the peak of his artistic mastery. In MacDougall's catalogue, this painting is characterised a museum quality work as “one of the best examples of epic landscapes”.

Ivan Shishkin. Pine Forest. Yelabuga. Oil on canvas, 147 by 91 cm. 1897
Ivan Shishkin (1832-1898)
Pine Forest. Yelabuga. Oil on canvas,
147 by 91 cm. 1897
The offered lot illustrated in Zhivopisnoe obozrenie, 1899
Art and literary magazine "Zhivopisnoe obozrenie", No. 2, 1899, with the illustration of Ivan Shishkin's painting "Sukhostoi" in black and white.
The catalogues of the Itinerant exhibitions of Ivan Shishkin's paintings, 1898 and 1904.

No less important for the upcoming auction is Ivan Khrutsky's “Still Life with Fruit and Honeycomb” (£350,000–500,000). This large-scale canvas was painted at the peak of the artist’s fame in 1840 and is one of his best paintings in terms of composition and execution. Ivan Khrutsky was known for the resemblance of his manner of execution to that of the old masters, for which his paintings were highly valued by his contemporaries. In 1839 he was granted the title of art academic of the Imperial Academy of Arts for “excellence in portrait, landscape, and particularly in the painting of fruit and vegetables.”

Ivan Khrutsky. Still Life with Fruit and Honeycomb. Oil on canvas, 80.5 by 111.5 cm. 1840
Ivan Khrutsky (1810-1885)
Still Life with Fruit and Honeycomb. Oil on canvas,
80.5 by 111.5 cm. 1840

A composite image of a woman reflecting the spirit of the time and embodied in the portrait “Woman in a Yellow Dress” (£300,000–500,000) - a painting by Alexander Deineka dated 1955 - conveys the impression that the artist’s model is a character in a Soviet comedy. The creation of the work happened after the soviet painter had already become one of the best contemporary artists, and was famous for his prominent mosaics in the metro and his monumental compositions in Soviet pavilions for international art fairs.

Alexander Deineka. Woman in a Yellow Dress. Oil on canvas, 65 by 83 cm. 1955
Alexander Deineka (1899-1969)
Woman in a Yellow Dress. Oil on canvas,
65 by 83 cm. 1955

“Reclining Nude” (£180,000–300,000), painted in c. 1959 by prominent Soviet landscape master Georgy Nissky, has an interesting backstory and in addition to that is a very rare work of art of the artist in the genre of the nude figure. Georgy Nissky set up a stage arrangement for study purposes with a nude model at his studio “Artist’s Colony ” on Verkhniaia Maslovka street, to which he invited his old friend Andrey Goncharov. “Nude model. In G. Nissky’s Studio” by Goncharov is now part of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art collection. If comparing the artwork of Goncharov and Nissky, it is interesting to note the difference in composition and palette used by the artists. The nude figure by Andrey Goncharov is depicted more traditionally at an angle, the artist conveying the staging elements - such as the ornament on the jug, the small casting of Rodin’s “The Thinker”, and the variety of fabrics - in great detail. Georgy Nissky chose a panoramic view for his work as is typical for his landscapes, as well as clear colours, which allowed the artist to achieve a wider picture, including the larger objects of his arrangement, such as the bookcase, the bed, and even the rug not shown at all in Gonharov’s artwork.

Georgy Nissky. Reclining Nude. Oil on canvas, 93.5 by 92.5 cm. c. 1959
Georgy Nissky (1903-1987)
Reclining Nude. Oil on canvas,
93.5 by 92.5 cm. c. 1959

Photos of paintings and information: courtesy of MacDougall’s

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The interview: Martin Hans Borg, Russian Art Expert at Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers

Martin Hans Borg, Russian art expert from Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers, Bredgade 33, Copenhagen, Denmark, talks about the Russian art auction on June 8th, 2018, as well as the role of provenance in the selection of items for auctions. “We have contact with the branches of the Danish royal house, which continuously consigns Russian art treasures to our auctions. It always provides an extraordinary touch when there are royal and imperial provenances on the lots that are up for auction. This is also the case at the summer's Russian auction."

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