Lot 10
  • 10

Mikhail Matveevich Shvartsman, 1926-1997

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
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  • Mikhail Matveevich Shvartsman
  • yaroe oko [avid eye]
  • signed and titled in Cyrillic and inscribed 1966-1972 on reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 100 by 75cm., 39¼; by 29½in.


The Collection of George Costakis


Thesaloniki, State Museum of Contemporary Art , Soviet Alternative Art 1956 -1988 from the Costakis Collections, 7 June - 10 September, 2006


Ye. Barabanov, I. Shvartsman et al. (Eds.), Mikhail Shvartsman, St. Petersburg: Palace Editions, 2005, Cat. No. 108, pp. 110-111, 371, ill. plate 22 (incorrectly titled Paternal Structure)

Maria Tsantsanoglou (Ed.), Soviet Alternative Art (1956-1988) From the Costakis Collections, Athens, 2006, p.155 (illustrated and incorrectly titled Mecca)

Catalogue Note

During the 1970s several of Russia's non-conformist artists were experimenting with abstraction, and one of the most significant of these was the Jewish-Russian painter Mikhail Shvartsman.  Even as early as the 1950s he had set out to devise a coherent system in which to express his personal spiritual experience, a space where his religious thinking could meet with artistic experience.  He did not take part in the underground exhibitions of his contemporaries, choosing to work alone and actively eschewed his identity as an artist, preferring instead to be called a 'hierat' a name he took from the Greek word 'heiros', meaning holy or sacred, as well as priest.
Shvartsman usually worked in oil on panel, which he would inscribe on the reverse with elaborate Cyrillic calligraphy reminiscent of Old Church Slavonic, perhaps suggesting comparison between his work and the Orthodox religious icon for its role as gateway to the divine.  In fact, Shvartsman took pains to discourage such academic interpretation as he viewed his art as a product of genuine personal spiritual experience and therefore saw his works as vehicles for transmitting pure religious experience in the present.

The subject matter of his works falls into two main categories, that of geometric abstraction (architectonics) and the heads of mediaeval heralds, whose elongated features resemble masks, or the faces on Greek and Russian icons, such as in the offered lot. Shvartsman's sensitivity to colour is particularly striking.  The present lot is typical for its muted palette of violet, brown, green and blue, whose subtle tones resonate and glow.  In such works the artist as visionary points us towards a higher state of consciousness, meditation and finally transcendence.

The offered lot was acquired directly from the artist by the famous Greek collector of Russian avant-garde and nonconformist art, George Costakis in the 1970s.