Critics had long-since recognised that the USSR was home to world-class ballet dancers, writers, poets and musicians, but many now began to wonder whether the country’s artists were equally motivated to greatness, and none more so that Raymond Johnson. An avid collector already, Mr Johnson started to purchase Soviet-era paintings from the late 1980s onwards, making regular trips to Russia and visiting artists in their studios and meeting their families wherever possible.
His thirty year adventure in collecting has culminated in one of the greatest privately-owned collections of Soviet-era art. In 2002 he was instrumental in founding the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis; in 2004, Mr Johnson was named an honorary consul of the Russian Federation; on 19 January 2006, he was awarded the Order of Friendship by the Russian Federation in recognition of 20 years of efforts to enhance cultural understanding between Russia and the United States.
These extraordinary achievements and the artistic legacy that he has preserved represent only a fraction of his experience as a collector however. ‘What is most important to me’ he explained, ‘is that we developed great and long-lasting relationships with the artists and their families. For me, the exceptional training combined with the passion and spirit of these artists is irresistible. The artistry, mastery and craftsmanship took my breath away.’
Alexander Gerasimov, advocate of Socialist Realism and President of the USSR Academy of the Arts from 1947-57, was renowned for his official portraits of Soviet leaders. However, the still life often features in his oeuvre despite the decorative and apolitical nature of the genre. In his autobiography Gerasimov recalled, ‘What a huge pleasure it is to paint flowers… Still lifes 'cleanse' the eyes of the artist. Painting flowers is like relaxing after a tiring journey on a road full of bumps and ruts’ (A.Gerasimov, Zhizn' khudozhnika, Moscow, 1963, p.101)
The present lot reflects the artist’s enthusiasm for painting nature, using broad and expressive brushstrokes to detail the rich colour, texture and form of the blooming rose heads. The use of the mirror adds further depth to the composition, as we catch a glimpse of the bright foliage of the trees outside. The composition is illuminated by the vibrant colours and play of light from the surfaces of the featured objects, suggesting the influence of his former teacher Konstantin Korovin, a leading Russian Impressionist whom Gerasimov continued to admire throughout his career.
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