Lot 131
  • 131

ALEKSANDR RODCHENKO | Girl with a Leica (Devushka s Leikoi)

300,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • Girl with a Leica (Devushka s Leikoi)
  • 15 3/4  by 11 1/2  in. (40 by 29.2 cm.)
large-format, toned, credited, titled in Cyrillic, dated, and '26' [circled], possibly by the photographer's daughter, Varvara Rodchenko, in pencil and the Rodchenko/Stepanova collection stamp on the reverse, tipped to a buff paper mount, signed, with '36' and '1936,' and annotations in Cyrillic in pencil, credited, titled in Cyrillic, dated, and '26' [circled], possibly by the photographer's daughter, Varvara Rodchenko, in pencil and the Rodchenko/Stepanova collection stamp on the reverse, circa 1932-34


Collection of the photographer and his wife Varvara Stepanova

By descent to the photographer's daughter, Varvara Rodchenko

Private collection, 1960s

Christie's London, 29 October 1992, Sale 4832, Lot 118


Lubomír Linhart, Alexandr Rodčenko (Prague, 1964), pl. 11

Rodtchenko Photographe (Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1977), unpaginated

Pionieri della Fotografia Sovietica, 1917-1940 (Milan, 1983), pl. 43

Alexandr Rodčenko, I Grandi Fotografi–serie argento (Milan, 1983), p. 35

Sergei Morozov and Valerie Lloyd, Soviet Photography: An Age of Realism (New York, 1984), pp. 6 and 76

Alexander Rodchenko (Pantheon, 1986), cover and pl. 43

Selim Omarovich Khan-Magomedov, Rodchenko: The Complete Work (Cambridge, 1987), p. 243

Die Revolution: Die Anfaenge des Bildjournalismus in der Sowjetunion (Zurich: Schwezerische Stiftung für die Photographie Kunsthaus, 1989), pl. 115

20 Soviet Photographers, 1917-1940 (Amsterdam, 1990), pl. 121

Alexander Lavrentiev, Alexander Rodchenko, Photography 1924-1954 (Cologne, 1995), p. 158

Magdalena Dabrowski, Leah Dickerman, and Peter Galassi, Aleksandr Rodchenko (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1998), pl. 304

Rudolf Kicken, Annette Kicken, and Simone Förster, eds., Points of View: Masterpieces of Photography and Their Stories (Köln, 2007), p. 59


This stunning, early print is on lush double-weight paper with a smooth surface. It exhibits velvety, chocolate dark tones and nuanced mid-tones and highlights. Exceptional detail is visible throughout, even in the darkest areas of the image. Despite our best efforts, our catalogue illustration does not do the beauty of the print adequate justice. The large print is in generally excellent condition. Upon close examination, an isolated series of small, linear creases is visible in the upper left quadrant, to the left of the sitter. While these small creases appear to break the emulsion, there does not appear to be any loss of emulsion. Extending from the right edge of the print is a small, soft, horizontal crease that does not appear to break the emulsion, and there are a few insignificant soft handling creases overall that are only visible upon close examination in raking light. None of the aforementioned detracts in any way from this exceptional, rare print. On the reverse of the print at the lower corners are 2 small glue remnants. The date '1934’ is in pencil on the reverse, and ‘4’ appears to be written over ‘2’. The photograph is tipped along its upper edge to a large buff paper mount, the overall dimensions of which measure 25-1/4 by 17-1/2 inches. The mount is signed and dated by Rodchenko. An annotation in Cyrillic, possibly referring to another photograph by Rodchenko, has been cancelled in graphite. There is subtle, age-appropriate darkening to the large paper mount, primarily at the edges and in the area covered by the print. Along the upper and lower edges of the mount, there is creasing as well as some small losses and tears. This does not in any way affect the photograph and is not visible when viewing the photograph framed. On the reverse of the mount along the lower-right edge is a paper-tape remnant. When examined under ultraviolet light, this photograph does not appear to fluoresce.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The photograph offered here is a large, exhibition-sized print of one of Rodchenko’s most enduring images.  An adventurous composition of rhythmic lines, abstract patterns, and extreme angles, Girl with a Leica embodies the rigorous photographic Modernism that Rodchenko pioneered.  Diagonal lines, intrinsic to Constructivist practice, converge here at the seated figure of Evgenia Lemberg, the whole frame bathed in a geometric play of shadow, with natural light filtered through an unseen grate.  Rodchenko included Girl with a Leica in his section of the 1935 Exhibition of the Work of the Masters of Soviet Photography (Vystavka rabot masterov sovetskogo foto-iskusstva) held in the exhibition hall on Kuznetskii Most in Moscow [fig 1].  Rodchenko had for several years suffered attacks on his creativity in the context of Stalin’s increasingly oppressive government, and the positive reception of his work in the exhibition afforded him some well-deserved affirmation: ‘A. M. Rodchenko ranks as one of the most celebrated and provocative figures in Soviet photographic art…He stands on the ‘left’ wing of art, and is historically and formally linked with Russian Futurism and Constructivism…The role of Rodchenko in the history of Soviet art is unquestionably great; only a handful of Soviet photo-reporters have escaped his influence’ (Exhibition of Works of Soviet Photographic Artists, 1935, p. 97, quoted in Lavrentiev, p. 31). 

A key visual element of this image, as well as the tool used to make it, is the handheld Leica camera.  When Rodchenko acquired his Leica in October 1928, it ‘marked the beginning of an entirely new series.  He seemed to go everywhere with it, eyeing everyone and everything…’ (Lavrentiev p. 23).  The handheld camera afforded the multidisciplinary Rodchenko unfettered creative freedom, making possible the present dynamic portrait.  Playful images of artists behind the camera pepper Rodchenko’s oeuvre from the 1930s, but only Girl with a Leica – with its tilted vantage point and unconventional framing – fully conveys Rodchenko’s experimental spirit. 

The photograph was an important one for Rodchenko from the time of its making and its significance has not diminished in the intervening decades.  It is an image known, however, mostly through reproduction or later prints.  It is believed that no other early print of this image has been offered at auction.  A large-format print of similar size and dating in the Rodchenko-Stepanova Archive is now at the Moscow House of Photography Museum. There is a smaller print in the Thomas Walther Collection at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1828.2001), as well as one at The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (84.XM.258.39), measuring no more than 11-7/8 by 8-3/4 inches.