PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT NEW YORK ESTATE
Prague, Salon Topich, Enamel, Tapestries, Glass: Maria Tenisheva, Ory Robin, Zdenka Braunerova, October-November 1909
It would be difficult to name an aspect of Russian art at the turn of the twentieth century in which Princess Maria Tenisheva was not involved. She established a number of public art schools and studios, personally supported artists, sponsored the magazine Mir iskusstva (which gave name to the miriskusniki movement), became a popular patron of the arts, collected works of art which she donated to museums, wrote a dissertation on enamel work and a beautiful memoir, collaborated with Diaghilev to decorate one of his ballet productions, and even played Tchaikovsky’s music with the composer himself. Vrubel’, Repin, Korovin and Serov painted her portraits; Trubetskoy sculpted her, more than once. But her crowning achievement was undoubtedly Talashkino, near Smolensk, an artistic estate in the style of Abramtsevo with a focus on decorative arts which she established in 1893. In its workshops, traditional Slavic crafts and techniques were taught and revived.
In a letter to Roerich dated 25 July 1921, Tenisheva writes that she believes the Enchanted Beasts to be among her best works. It speaks to the aesthetic pleasures the artist sought and found in household objects and enamel work in particular. Recalling her youth in Paris, where she studied at the Académie Julian, Tenisheva wrote in her posthumously-published memoirs:
“I could stand for hours outside the showrooms of antique objects. I was attracted to and absorbed by the Medieval Era, but most of all—enamel work. In the Louvre, in Musèe de Cluny there were things I could barely pull myself away from. It’s hard to say what happened to me when I gazed upon these objects. They had the decided effect of chaining me to myself. Each object would speak to me. Gazing tentatively into the past, I could see the object in the setting for which it was created; the people, for whom it was built. I hallucinated the unforgiving tyrant one minute, the delicate mysterious medieval woman the next. These objects appeared to me to be alive, invested with spirituality. I bowed down before them, sensing a deep respect for them.”
Fish and Pigeon from this series sold, Christie’s London, 8 June 2010, lots 220 and 221; the paperweight, Swan, sold Christie’s London, 29 November 2010, lot 43. All seven Enchanted Beasts embody the spirit of Tenisheva and Talashkino, whose style poet and critic Sergei Makovsky described as being defined by “eclecticism, freedom, and intimacy”. The wide variety of art forms that informed Tenisheva’s output, the freedom brought about by her considerable wealth, and ultimately her intense absorption with household objects and decorative arts, attest to the depth of this analysis. Sotheby’s is grateful to Jesco Oser for his assistance in researching this lot.
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