PROPERTY SOLD TO BENEFIT THE REED LIBRARY AT THE STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AT FREDONIA, UNITED STATES
J.Schweik, 'From Europe's "Volcanic Eruption" to Fredonia: The Zweig Collection', Modern Austrian Literature, Vol.14, No.3/4, Special Stefan Zweig Issue, 1981, p.363 illustrated b/w
E.Kuznetsov, Niko Pirosmani: 1862-1918, Leningrad: Aurora, 1983, p.288, no.77 illustrated b/w; p.289, no.77 listed as Georgian Woman Wearing a Lechaki (Ex. S. and F.M. Zweig Collection)
Zweig acquired the present lot during this trip and the painting quickly became his favourite (Schweik, op.cit.) and it hung in his home in Salzburg prior to his emigration from Austria in 1934, via London and New York, to Brazil. He was Europe’s most translated author at the time, with his work available in nearly forty languages, and he in turn was as broad in his collecting as in his own writing and worldview, passionately believing in a united European continent. Following Zweig’s death in 1942 the painting remained in the possession of his first wife Friderike Maria Zweig, until it was gifted to Dr Harry Zohn in 1953. Dr Zohn, founder of the International Stefan Zweig Society and friend of Friderike, donated the painting to the Zweig Room in the Reed Library at the State University College at Fredonia, New York in 1981 where it has remained until this sale.
Pirosmani was famously ‘discovered’ in Georgia in 1912 by the Futurists Ilya and Kirill Zdanevich, who arranged for several of his works to be sent to Moscow in 1913 to be exhibited at the Mishen’ exhibition alongside those of his avant-garde contemporaries, including Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov. His approach to painting was exciting because it extended the boundaries of what counted as ‘acceptable’ art – and inevitably invited the ridicule of conservative critics who mocked his inability to paint ‘correctly’. The Georgian was a withdrawn figure with no formal artistic education, and up until this point had earned a meagre living decorating interiors and painting shop signs in Tbilisi, often accepting food and drink in lieu of payment. He tended to paint directly onto the material most readily available to him such as tablecloths belonging to the establishments he was working for.
Just as his work began to garner wider attention Pirosmani retreated into obscurity, which only fueled the air of mystery that would come to be associated with his name after his death in Tbilisi in 1918. His raw untutored aesthetic inspired a generation of Georgian and Russian artists who were looking to break free from the academic stagnation of the traditional schools of art. Georgian Woman Wearing a Lechaki is one of a series of ‘Georgian Women’ painted by Pirosmani, the majority of which are now owned by the State Museum of Georgia (fig.3). There are minor variations between the five known examples of this composition (the present lot included), such as the wings of the bird on her lapel and decorative detail on her clothing. While only one of the known examples is dated ‘1906’, at least one other is also inscribed ‘gruzinka'.
Kuznetsov records the dimensions of the present lot incorrectly as 92 by 86cm. Inconsistencies in dimensions are not unusual in his otherwise authoritative monograph (fig.1). In this case the painting would have already been in the United States at the time of publication and unavailable for first-hand verification.
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