MOSCOW - Natalia Kournikova is a Russian art dealer who owns the Kournikova Gallery in Moscow. A pioneer in her field, she has a special interest in representing artists who left Russia after the Revolution and whose work in emigration is only now beginning to be fully recognised. Her most recent show entitled The Shuster Collection represents Russian Modernist masterpieces from the collection of the late Leningrad art connoisseur Solomon Shuster. I caught up with her in Moscow recently to discuss the exhibition.


What was your favourite piece in the exhibition?

As an art professional you cannot have just one favourite work in this collection. Endlessly wonderful are Boris Grigoriev’s Dushka, Niko Pirosmani’s Georgian with Tambourine, Leonid’s Chupyatov’s thrilling painting The Hunt. And you get a feeling of genuine aesthetic pleasure from Pavel Kuznetsov’s Central Asian works. It is difficult to distinguish the best from the best…

What drew you to Russian Modernist art from the Shuster Collection?

Solomon Shuster (1934-1995) was one of the most important collectors in Leningrad during the Soviet period. He was a cinematographer and art expert, he was a natural collector and he had a broad and discerning taste. What he liked most was Russian figurative Modernist art, which is a field I am personally most interested in.

How do you assess the importance of the Schuster collection?

His extensive collection could have become a private museum if the times in which he lived had been different and if he had lived longer.  In our show we have exhibited the most significant works from the collection by the top artists.


One of the best loved masterpieces in the Russian Museum is Ilya Mashkov’s Self Portrait with Petr Konchalovsky, which once belonged to Solomon Schuster and is now on temporary display in your exhibition. Can you tell us something about this incredible work?

This work was loaned to us by the Russian Museum (the work was for a long time in the collection of Solomon Shuster and only in 1982 did it enter the museum collection). It is one of the most popular masterpieces by the so-called Jack of Diamonds artists, who were an avant-garde group formed in Moscow. Today it is a respected classic of art from the beginning of the 20th century, but when it was at the first exhibition of the Jack of Diamonds group in 1910 it was among the most controversial works. Even Olga Vasilievna, the wife of Petr Konchalovsky, wanted to distance herself from the scandal and asked to have her portrait and that of Mashkov’s wife’s overpainted. The two oval portraits hanging on the wall behind the two muscular artists were humorously repainted as still lifes, only leaving a small trace of the original sitters.

How are Russian tastes in collecting evolving and what are Russian collectors looking to collect today?

The Russian market for Modernist art suffers from a lack of property. On one hand this creates even more interest in these rare works, on the other it stops new art connoisseurs and collectors from buying them and means they have to look at them from the side. For a long time I have thought that it is worth looking at lesser-known artists of this epoch.  There was a flowering of Russian culture in the first third of the 20th century and there were many great talents that the Soviet regime did not allow to shine through.  In our exhibition we have shown the best-known and most famous works from the Shuster collection, but his collecting interests stretched far wider than this. There are a few not so well known names which Shuster’s aesthetic eye chose which have now become better known or are becoming established in art history and in the art market.