Lot 108
  • 108

NIKO PIROSMANI (GEORGIAN) | Georgian Woman Wearing a Lechaki

500,000 - 700,000 GBP
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  • Niko Pirosmani (Georgian)
  • Georgian Woman Wearing a Lechaki
  • inscribed in Cyrillic gruzinka l.l.
  • oil on oilcloth
  • 105 by 85cm, 41 1/4 by 33 1/2 in.


Stefan and Friderike Zweig
Professor Harry Zohn (1923-2001), by 1953, a gift from Friderike Zweig
The Stefan Zweig Collection at Fredonia, by 1981, a gift from the above


J.Schweik, 'From Europe's "Volcanic Eruption" to Fredonia: The Zweig Collection', Modern Austrian Literature, Vol.14, No.3/4, Special Stefan Zweig Issue, 1981, p.363 illustrated b/w 
E.Kuznetsov, Niko Pirosmani: 1862-1918, Leningrad: Aurora, 1983, p.288, no.77 illustrated b/w; p.289, no.77 listed as Georgian Woman Wearing a Lechaki (Ex. S. and F.M. Zweig Collection)


Structural Condition The oilcloth appears lined and is attached to a fixed wooden stretcher which is made up of four members. The lined oilcloth is slack and displays scattered linear deformations and crease lines, undulations and indentations. These include a crease line running through the blue background in the upper right quadrant and an indentation towards the centre of the right edge. There are also impression lines corresponding to the stretcher members. Paint Surface The paint surface appears to be unvarnished. There is vertical drip mark above the centre of the lower edge. There is an intermittent, horizontal fine line of white abrasion running in from the lower part of the right edge. There are a number of paint losses with associated paint instability on and close to the extreme edges of the composition, including corresponding to two crease lines running in from the lower part of the left and right edges, and a small area of paint loss in the extreme upper left corner of the composition. There is a raised craquelure pattern with associated fragile and lifting paint and minor paint losses throughout the blue background and within the figure's face and flesh tones. There are other minor paint losses. Inspection under ultraviolet light shows a number of retouchings within the blue background in the upper part of the composition, most notably below the right part of the upper edge and close to the upper part of the left edge. These retouchings are also visible in natural light. Inspection under ultraviolet light also shows a few small retouchings within the sitter's left cheek and a retouching corresponding to the crease line running in from the lower part of the left edge. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in fair condition and would respond well to cleaning, restoration and revarnishing including the treatment and relining of the oilcloth.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

The Austrian author Stefan Zweig was introduced to the works of Niko Pirosmani in 1928 during a visit to Moscow for the centenary celebrations of the birth of Leo Tolstoy. Zweig, an admirer of Henri Rousseau and primitivist art more generally, saw Pirosmani’s works in the Tretyakov Gallery, later writing ‘[in the gallery] one encounters a completely unexpected array of magnificent Russian paintings completely unknown to us over here [in Europe]’ (S.Zweig, Reise nach Russland, 1928). He declared that Pirosmani would be a ‘true discovery for Europe’ and nicknamed the artist the ‘great Piro’ (Diary of Grigol Robakidze, 13 September 1928). Zweig acquired the present lot during this trip and the painting quickly became his favourite (Schweik, op.cit.) and it hung in his home in Salzburg prior to his emigration from Austria in 1934, via London and New York, to Brazil. He was Europe’s most translated author at the time, with his work available in nearly forty languages, and he in turn was as broad in his collecting as in his own writing and worldview, passionately believing in a united European continent. Following Zweig’s death in 1942 the painting remained in the possession of his first wife Friderike Maria Zweig, until it was gifted to Dr Harry Zohn in 1953. Dr Zohn, founder of the International Stefan Zweig Society and friend of Friderike, donated the painting to the Zweig Room in the Reed Library at the State University College at Fredonia, New York in 1981 where it has remained until this sale.

Pirosmani was famously ‘discovered’ in Georgia in 1912 by the Futurists Ilya and Kirill Zdanevich, who arranged for several of his works to be sent to Moscow in 1913 to be exhibited at the Mishen’ exhibition alongside those of his avant-garde contemporaries, including Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov. His approach to painting was exciting because it extended the boundaries of what counted as ‘acceptable’ art and inevitably invited the ridicule of conservative critics who mocked his inability to paint ‘correctly’. The Georgian was a withdrawn figure with no formal artistic education, and up until this point had earned a meagre living decorating interiors and painting shop signs in Tbilisi, often accepting food and drink in lieu of payment. He tended to paint directly onto the material most readily available to him such as tablecloths belonging to the establishments he was working for.

Just as his work began to garner wider attention Pirosmani retreated into obscurity, which only fueled the air of mystery that would come to be associated with his name after his death in Tbilisi in 1918. His raw untutored aesthetic inspired a generation of Georgian and Russian artists who were looking to break free from the academic stagnation of the traditional schools of art. Georgian Woman Wearing a Lechaki is one of a series of ‘Georgian Women’ painted by Pirosmani, the majority of which are now owned by the State Museum of Georgia (fig.3). There are minor variations between the five known examples of this composition (the present lot included), such as the wings of the bird on her lapel and decorative detail on her clothing. While only one of the known examples is dated ‘1906’, at least one other is also inscribed ‘gruzinka'.

Kuznetsov records the dimensions of the present lot incorrectly as 92 by 86cm. Inconsistencies in dimensions are not unusual in his otherwise authoritative monograph (fig.1). In this case the painting would have already been in the United States at the time of publication and unavailable for first-hand verification.