Sotheby’s is delighted to present an exceptionally strong selection of Russian art in the May Evening sale. We are honoured to have Vasily Vereshchagin’s The Spy as the cover lot of our sale - a dramatic, large-scale canvas which was originally sold at his landmark 1891 American Art Galleries auction in New York and comes to us from a private American collection. Other highlights of the 19th century paintings include two lovely landscapes by Ivan Aivazovsky, views of Venice and Toulon by Alexei Bogoliubov, and a rare military painting by the court artist Adolf Ladurner.
The avant-garde masterpiece Still Life (Bluebells) by Natalia Goncharova will be offered at £3-4million and presents a rare opportunity to acquire a superb example of the engagement of the Russian avant-garde with the work of Henri Matisse and their French counterparts. This advanced semi-abstract painting features her famous canvas Bleaching Linen (The State Russian Museum) in the background and is thought to date to circa 1909.
The early 20th century section includes two paintings which until now have only ever been reproduced in black and white exhibition catalogues: The Bathers by Mikhail Larionov and Portrait of Feodor Chaliapin by Boris Anisfeld. The former is a bright, dynamic work which dates from an experimental stage of Larionov's journey towards Rayonism and is an exceptional example of his encounters with Fauvism. It was a gift from the artist to the Italian Futurist poet and theorist, Carlo Belloli in 1964 and it has remained in his family since then. The rediscovery of Boris Anisfeld’s pre-emigration portrait of Chaliapin is equally exciting and is an important addition to the iconic depictions of this singer by Russia’s leading artists.
At the heart of the sale are five ceramic sculptures by Mikhail Vrubel, an artist whose work appears at auction very rarely. Inspired by Lermontov’s poetry and the operas of Rimsky-Korsakov, these models rank among the most iconic pieces produced at the Abramtsevo ceramic workshop in the 1890s and show Vrubel’s experiments with iridescent glazes and firing techniques. The present group comprises sophisticated and highly-worked versions which are acknowledged by museum experts as ‘the missing link’ in the study of Vrubel’s decorative ceramics.
We are proud to offer museum-class works by Konchalovsky, Chagall, Roerich, Nesterov, Volkov and Saryan among others and look forward to welcoming you to our galleries from Saturday 26th May.