T he December 2020 Russian Pictures sale features a diverse selection of works from various periods and representing many of the major movements in Russian art. In addition to 18th century portraiture and academic paintings from the 19th century, the sale includes a strong selection of Russian theatre design and a number of avant-garde works, including Nuit d’hiver, an early oil by Natalia Goncharova with impeccable provenance.
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It was partly thanks to the ground-breaking and at times provocative set and costume designs that Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes caused such a sensation in Europe during the 1910s and 1920s. Diaghilev collaborated with leading members of the World of Art group such as Léon Bakst and Alexander Benois, as well as with avant-garde artists such as Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov, all of whom are represented in Pat and Michael York’s collection of Russian theatre design which Sotheby’s is honoured to offer here for sale.
During his fifty-year career, Michael York has worked in film and television as well as on the stage. He has been awarded an OBE, an Ordre des Arts et des Lettres as well as a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He married Patricia McCallum, an accomplished photographer, in 1968.
Highlights from the Collection
Despite a long life which spanned nearly the whole of the 20th century, and being one of Kazimir Malevich’s most talented and devoted students, Konstantin Rozhdestvensky’s career as an artist was short-lived. He gave up painting altogether in the mid-1930s, instead becoming the Soviet Union’s leading exhibition designer.
The sale includes nine oils from the late 1920s and first half of the 1930s, Rozhdestvensky’s most significant period as a painter and clearly influenced by Malevich’s peasant cycle. This collection was acquired directly from the artist in the 1980s by the mother of the present owner. In the article accompanying the Self-Portrait, she recalls her first meeting with Rozhdestvensky in Moscow in the 1960s.
Natalia Goncharova was a leading member of the Russian avant-garde who was instrumental in the development of many of the most radical artistic groups of the 1910s and pioneered the development of Neoprimitivsm and Rayonism. Her achievements would have been remarkable for any artist, but even more so for a woman working in the early 20th century. Now recognised both in Russia and abroad for her enormous contribution to art history, she has been the subject of major exhibitions at the State Tretyakov Gallery in 2013-14, and more recently at Tate Modern in 2019.
The sale is led by Nuit d’hiver an important oil dating from circa 1907, a pivotal moment in her career that would see the birth of Neoprimitivsm, the most significant movement of the early Russian avant-garde. The sale includes several other oils, including a still life from her early Paris period thought to commemorate her meeting with the Italian Futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in 1914, illustrated here.
In the West, Goncharova is perhaps best known for her trailblazing designs for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, such as those for Le Coq d’Or.
She was the only woman Diaghilev ever commissioned for his productions, and her designs inspired by Russian Folk art captivated European audiences and sent shockwaves through the worlds of fashion and design. Goncharova would continue to work for the theatre for the rest of her career.