PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION, NEW YORK
Irene von Radlov (Irina Rudolfovna Radlova, maiden name "Moor") was the wife of Alexander Vasilievich Radlov and daughter-in-law of Vasili Radlov, a renowned scientist, linguist, ethnographer and the director of the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography in St. Petersburg from 1894-1918. Yakovlev would have met von Radlov during his time at the Academy in St. Petersburg, and he must have found her an interesting and captivating subject for he completed several preliminary sketches and studies for the present work, all of which are currently held in museum collections (fig.2). As art historian Elena Kamenskaya points out, these studies of Irene von Radlov were previously unidentified until the Yakovlev and Shukhaev exhibition at the State Russian Museum in 1988 (Yakovlev and Shukhaev: The Hundredth Year Anniversary exhibition catalogue), which included a sketch featuring the sitter in the aforementioned studies and the present lot, and the title Portrait of Irene von Radlov. In 1915, while in Italy, Yakovlev wrote to his old teacher and the director of the Imperial Academy of Art Dmitri Kardovsky and mentioned a half-length portrait of Irene von Radlov ‘based on the drawings of the lady, who is now in St. Petersburg’ (as quoted in ‘Kogda kraska eshe svezha’ The Unpublished Letters of V.I. Shukhaev and A.E. Yakovlev to D.N. Kardovsky and O.L. Della-vos-Kardovsky, 1989, p.48, no.2, ed. by Elena Yakovleva). The present lot is also referred to in a letter dated October 26, 1967 from Vassily Shukhaev to Solomon Shuster, the owner of the work in the early 1960s and a renowned collector of Russian art in Leningrad.
Portrait of Irene von Radlov showcases Yakovlev’s early artistic skill, particularly reflecting the influences of Renaissance masters on his work (fig.3). The ultimate parallel can perhaps be drawn between the present lot and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa; Yakovlev mimics the sitter’s positioning, reserved posture and enigmatic gaze, manipulating light and shadow to bring the picture to life, and the hint of a landscape in the background to evoke a monumental and atmospheric quality.
We would like to thank Elena Kamenskaya, art historian, for providing additional catalogue information. This work is the subject of Kamenskaya's article titled "Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Alexander Yakovlev" that will appear in the book Radlovskie chteniya, St. Petersburg, 2013.
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