Lot 5
  • 5

Kirill Zdanevich

500,000 - 700,000 GBP
1,482,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Kirill Zdanevich
  • Café Etoile
  • variously inscribed in Latin on the reverse; with handwritten labels in Cyrillic on the stretcher for the Moscow Storage Facility for Contemporary Art no.1403; the other inscribed G. i L. / no.210
  • oil on canvas


Mikhail Larionov, Moscow, circa 1913
Alexandra Tomilina-Larionov, Paris, by descent from the above
Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne
Acquired from the above by the father of the present owners in 1986


Moscow, Bol'shaya Dmitrovka 11, Mishen', 1913, no.56


G.Pospelov, Bubnovy Valet, Moscow: Sovetskii khudozhnik, 1990, p.249, no.56 listed
E.Murina, Ranii avangard: Fovism, Ekspressionism, Neoprimitivism, Moscow: Galart, 2008, p.170 illustrated

Catalogue Note

The first major work by Kirill Zdanevich ever to appear at auction, the history of Café Etoile gives a fascinating insight into the early Russian avant-garde’s obsession with folk art and primitive artists. In 1912, Zdanevich had participated in Larionov and Goncharova’s 'Donkey’s Tail' exhibition, and found himself at the centre of artistic innovation. Larionov and Goncharova called for an independent Russian school of art, free from Western influence.

During this time Zdanevich grew particularly close to another 'Donkey’s Tail' participant, the artist Mikhail Le Dentu. In the spring of 1912, Zdanevich and Le Dentu travelled to Tiflis, Zdanevich’s hometown, where they were soon joined by Kirill’s brother Ilya, the writer. Their trip proved to be tremendously important for the further development of the avant-garde for in the taverns of old Tiflis the three men discovered the work of Niko Pirosmani, a self-taught artist whose painting conformed exactly to Larionov’s ideal of primitive art.

It is likely that Zdanevich painted Café Etoile during this historic summer in Georgia, while he was under the spell of Pirosmani’s images. The work shows the owner of a dukhan, or tavern, typical of the time (fig.1). Behind him, the shop front is decorated with signs advertising wine and food, similar to those that Pirosmani would have painted. Zdanevich was also influenced stylistically by Pirosmani’s paintings, using bold contours and simplified forms, as well as a limited palette of bright colours.

On his return to Russia, Le Dentu took two Pirosmani paintings with him, including Woman with a Mug of Beer (fig.5), which he showed to Larionov. Realising the importance of Pirosmani’s work for demonstrating his ideas on primitive art, Larionov decided to include paintings by the Georgian painter in the forthcoming 'Mishen' (Target) exhibition. He wrote to Ilya Zdanevich, ‘We’ve got a new exhibition hall with overhead lighting. Please send me paintings by your brother and also more by the charming and remarkable Niko Pirosmani…’ (quoted in A.Povelikhina & E.Kovtun, Russian Painted Shop Signs and Avant-garde Artists, Leningrad: Aurora, 1991, p.75).

When the 'Target' exhibition opened on 24 March 1913 on Bolshaya Dmitrovka in Moscow, the public saw the present work by Zdanevich, Café Etoile, alongside four works by Pirosmani, including the aforementioned Woman with a Mug of Beer. It is presumed that after the exhibition closed, Café Etoile was sent to Larionov’s and Goncharova’s studio, as is suggested by their studio label and the label for Moscow Storage Facility for Contemporary Art that have survived on the stretcher (fig.2). The painting later ended up in Larionov’s studio in Paris, where it remained until it was sold by Alexandra Tomilina in the 1970s as a portrait of Le Dentu painted by her late husband (fig.4). This later misattribution is also suggested by the various inscriptions on the reverse of the canvas, including Larionov’s name which was subsequently crossed out (fig.3).