T he June Russian Pictures sale is led by Ivan Aivazovsky's magnificent view of The Bay of Naples. At over two metres wide, this impressive canvas is one of the largest works by the artist to appear at auction. Among the other highlights is a very fine portrait by the master of the genre, Konstantin Makovsky, of his third wife Maria Alexeevna Makovskaya and a view of Moscow by Alexei Savrasov.
Of particular interest to collectors will be fresh-to-the-market works such as the design for Sadko's Palace by Nicholas Roerich, in the same English collection since it was painted a century ago; a group of three works from the collection of the family of the society portraitist Savely Sorine; and from private American collections, an Aivazovsky acquired in Russia over a hundred years ago and a lovely Pokhitonov.
This online-only sale will open to bidders on Tuesday 26th May and begin closing from 2pm BST on Tuesday 2nd June.
A Motley Crew of Monarchs and Other Russian Highlights
Alexei Kondratievich Savrasov, View of Moscow
One of Russia’s best-loved landscape painters, Savrasov is known for his depictions of the countryside outside Moscow. In this view of late 19th century Moscow, with its then white-walled Kremlin, he juxtaposes a landscape with traditional wooden village architecture in the foreground with the rapidly changing skyline of the city in the distance. Click on the red dots to read more about the sites depicted.
- Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
Initially commissioned by Alexander I to commemorate the Russian victory over Napoleon, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was designed during the reign of his brother and successor Nicholas I and built on a site close to Kremlin on the left bank of the Moskva River. However, by the time Savrasov painted his picture over half a century later it would still only have been a recent addition to the Moscow skyline – the scaffolding was only taken down in 1860 and it would be another two decades of work before it was consecrated on 26 May 1883, on the eve of the coronation of Alexander III.
Under Joseph Stalin the site of the cathedral was chosen for the construction of the Palace of the Soviets, which would have been the world’s tallest building, topped by a 100-metre statue of Lenin. In 1931, in preparation the cathedral was blown up and reduced to rubble, however the new Palace was never built and its flooded foundations were eventually transformed into the world's largest open-air swimming pool. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union the cathedral was rebuilt on its original site between 1995 and 2000.
- Grand Kremlin Palace
Built between 1837 and 1849, the Grand Kremlin Palace was commissioned by Nicholas I, who entrusted the project to his favourite architect Konstantin Thon. Thon also designed the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which was being built nearby at the same time.
Thon's palace includes the earlier Terem Palace, several churches, the Holy Vestibule, and over 700 rooms. In Soviet times the rear quarters were partially demolished to make space for the colossal Kremlin Palace of Congresses, built on the initiative of Nikita Khrushchev to house Party meetings. This new addition was integrated into the larger complex with walkways linking it to the Grand Kremlin Palace.
Once the Tsar’s Moscow residence, the Grand Kremlin Palace is today the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation and is used for state and diplomatic receptions and official ceremonies.
- Ivan the Great Bell Tower
At a height of 81 metres, the Ivan the Great Bell Tower is the tallest tower and structure within the Kremlin. It was raised to its present height in 1600 on the orders of Boris Godunov. The Bell Tower contains 22 bells, however the most famous bell in the Kremlin lies on the ground nearby. The so-called Tsar Bell was cast in the first half of the 18th century but cracked during a fire shortly after its completion. Although it has never rung it remains the largest bell in the world, weighing over two hundred tons.
- Spasskaya Tower and the Kremlin Wall
The Kremlin’s crenellated red brick walls and its twenty towers were built at the end of the 15th century, when a host of Italian builders arrived in Moscow at the invitation of Tsar Ivan III. In Savrasov’s painting the Kremlin walls and towers are painted white, as they were from the 17th century until the late 19th century. The white paint not only protected the brick and covered up any signs of age, it was also a nod to the first stone citadel built in Moscow by Dmitry Donskoi in the 14th century, which replaced earlier walls and towers made of wood. The citadel was built with white limestone, and since then Moscow has been known as ‘belokammenaya’ – the city of white stone.
One of the most important towers, the Saviour (Spasskaya) Tower, leading to Red Square, was built in 1491 by Pietro Solario, who designed most of the main towers. Its belfry was added in 1624–25. The gate of the Spasskaya Tower has been the official entrance to the Kremlin for centuries. Today, it has a ruby-red star at the top, which was installed during the Soviet era to replace the double-headed Imperial Russian eagle.
- Saint Basil's Cathedral
Situated on Red Square right next to the Kremlin, the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat, commonly known as Saint Basil's Cathedral, was built between 1555 and 1561 on the orders of Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the capture of Kazan in 1552. Legend has it that Ivan the Terrible blinded the cathedral’s architect as soon as construction was finished to prevent him from ever building a cathedral as magnificent again. The iconic church has been part of the Moscow Kremlin and Red Square UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990.
- Sukharev Tower
Until its destruction by the Soviet authorities in 1934, the 61 metre Sukharev Tower was situated at the intersection of the Garden Ring and Sretenka Street and dominated the Moscow skyline. It was commissioned by Peter the Great to commemorate his triumph over his half-sister Sofia with the crushing of the Streltsy uprising in 1689. The tower was named in honour of Lavrenty Pankratievich Sukharev, whose regiment had supported Peter.
The tower is documented in another work by Savrasov painted for a competition held in connection with the bicentenary of Peter the Great in 1872, now at the State Historical Museum.
- Golitsyn Hospital Park and Neskuchny Garden
In 1796 Prince Dmitri Mikhailovich Golitsyn together with several other noble families bequeathed the funds ‘to establish in the capital city of Moscow an institution that would be pleasing to God and useful to people’, in memory of his beloved wife Ekaterina Golitsyna. The hospital building and garden followed the principles of a noble estate, with alleys, artificial islands and ponds, sculptures and fountains. The white granite wall, also known as Golitsyn Wall, with a rotunda at either end was designed by the famous neoclassical architect Matvey Kazakov. The wall marked the limits of the garden along the embankment.
The Golitsyn Hospital Park as well as the historical Neskuchny Garden were incorporated into the Gorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure which opened in 1928. Gorky Park has recently undergone major reconstruction.
- Andreevsky Monastery
The single-domed church visible on the left side of the present landscape most probably depicts the church of Saint Andrew Stratelates. Built in the second half of the 17th century it is one of three churches in the Andreevsky Monastery situated on the right bank of the Moskva River. In the late 19th century, when Savrasov painted this view, the area surrounding the monastery was still mainly rural and the wastelands in the vicinity of the monastery were just about as far as maps of Moscow from the period extended.
The nearby village of Vorobevo was almost completely demolished during the construction of the main building of the Moscow State University, one of Stalin’s Seven Sisters skyscrapers. The territory of its oldest part was turned into a parking lot and a park in front of the main building of the university. Once on the outskirts of Moscow, the idyllic views of Russian countryside documented by Savrasov were swallowed up by the rapidly growing city.
Richard Karlovich Zommer (1866-1939)
On graduating from the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg, the German-born artist and ethnologist embarked upon a remarkable expedition through Central Asia at the request of the Archaeological Institute. The expedition would span the 1890s and early 1900s – a period which proved to be his most prolific. The present works are characteristic of Zommer’s captivating and vivid genre scenes which both portray the everyday life of the people of Turkestan and serve as documental records of the region’s architectural treasures.
Vasily Shukhaev’s Illustration for Vanity Fair
In the early 1930s, Shukhaev was regularly commissioned by the American satirical magazine Vanity Fair to produce caricatures and illustrations. This large painting is a group caricature of twenty-one monarchs who had survived the events of the first two decades of the 20th century, and was published in July 1934.
- Zog of Albania
Albania’s first and only monarch, King Zog ruled between 1928 and 1939. The aristocratic Muslim king was viewed as an upstart by Europe’s Royal Houses, who gave him the cold-shoulder. Life at home was no less stressful and he reported to have been the subject of 55 assassination attempts.
"King Zog is said to have started as many as 80 blood feuds in his first two years of rule. As a consequence, he spent a good deal of his time cooped up in his palace in Tirana, where he contracted a poisoned throat from smoking about 150 cigarettes a day."
- King George V
Accused of dullness – although this was perhaps a survival technique having witnessed the fates of his first cousins Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last emperor of Germany, and Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia.
Vanity Fair noted approvingly that this monarch "receives £470,000 a year (of which he is able to keep perhaps £20,000 for his own uses), and combines so many potential bureaus and officials in his single person that England saves a good deal of money by keeping him on the throne….He possesses the most active conscience in Europe."
- Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands
The longest-reigning Dutch monarch is the only woman in Shukhaev’s line-up. "Shrew, wealthy and wonderfully Victorian" in Vanity Fair’s words, this widely respected leader took a close interest in state matters – perhaps too close for some – and was the world’s first female millionaire. Thanks to her efforts the Dutch maintained neutrality during the First World War and until the German invasion of the Netherlands in the Second.
- King Carol II of Romania
A lover of fast women and fast cars, the American historian Stanley G. Payne described Carol as "the most cynical, corrupt and power-hungry monarch who ever disgraced a throne anywhere in twentieth-century Europe". Although he did not officially proclaim himself "dictator" until a few years later, at the time of Shukhaev’s portrait Carol was already ruling the country as such with his commoner mistress, Romania’s loathed "Red Queen".
- King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy
"King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy whom fascism has reduced to the position of a permanent under-secretary is five feet three inches in height and has bristly hair that was once red, and a rather haughty manner. He is something of a homebody with a wonderful collection of coins and not very much conversation."
- King Prajadhipak of Siam
Beat unbelievable odds to become King of Siam despite being the youngest of 32 sons (and second youngest of 77 children) of King Chulalongkorn. Following a near bloodless coup in 1932, he became a constitutional rather than absolute monarch, "a move" according to the article "with which he is in complete sympathy. He is devoted to speedboats, photography, and his collection of walking sticks". The king would abdicate a year later and spent the rest of his life in England.
- Emperor of Manchukuo
The last emperor of China before his abdication in 1912, Puyi or Hsuang Tung’s consolation prize was to be made emperor of the puppet-state Manchukuo by the Japanese in 1932, only this time without the "mandate of heaven" much to his chagrin.
The short-sighted dog-lover was also known as Henry, a name chosen for its popularity with English kings, and one he insisted his eunuchs call him by as a youth. Apparently "he used to wear English tweeds, was fond of tinkering with the radio, and liked to have a brass-band play the latest Broadway hits while he dined. Now that he has ascended his red-lacquer throne at Chang-Chun these diversions are probably denied him".