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Sotheby's Russian Sales on December 1st to feature masterworks spanning three centuries
Fabergé jewelled gold brooch, workmaster August Hollming, St Petersburg, 1904-1908, Estimate £3,000 – 5,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- From Imperial Fabergé and 18th century aristocratic portraits, to landmark works of art from the avant-garde and Soviet era, Sotheby’s Russian Art sales in London on December 1st will present masterpieces from across Russia and the Caucasus. Highlights include Tair Salakhov’s iconic portrait of his daughter, recently reproduced as a stamp in Russia; Dmitry Levitsky’s rare early aristocratic portrait from 1779; one of Boris Grigoriev’s most unusual paintings; and two exquisite Imperial presentation snuff boxes that showcase the competition between Carl Fabergé and Carl Hahn for Emperor Nicholas II’s favour.

The Russian Pictures auction will conclude with the sale of over 250 works on paper by Natalia Goncharova, Russia’s greatest female artist. Together they constitute the largest and most comprehensive collection of the artist’s work ever to come to auction, including her ground-breaking set and costume designs for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in the 1910s, alongside fashion designs, studies for well-known paintings and sketches dating right up until the 1940s.

Following the Russian sale, “20th Century Art – A Different Perspective” on 2nd December will feature modern art from countries across Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. For reasons of geography history and politics, many of the countries represented have been closed off for much of the last century, their artists operating on the fringe of official culture. By showcasing these artists alongside each other, the sales will shed new light on the artistic and cultural relations between then, but also on their position within the wider context of art history.

Tair Salakhov, Aidan (c. 1979), oil on canvas Estimate £250,000-350,000

The present lot is another version of the celebrated portrait of the Azerbaijani artist’s youngest daughter, Aidan, held in the collection of the State Tretyakov Gallery. One of Salakhov’s best-known compositions, it is a landmark of Soviet Art, and this version was painted specifically for his 1980 solo exhibition at Gekkoso Gallery in Tokyo. Using the same restrained palette of contrasting red, white and black found in Salakhov’s famous portraits of the Soviet cultural elite, the work has become an iconic image of Soviet childhood. Indeed, it continues to be so popular that it was reproduced as a stamp in Russia in 2011.

Boris Grigoriev, Ramayana (1931), oil on canvas Estimate £600,000-800,000
This is without a doubt one of Grigoriev’s most unusual paintings. Having gained worldwide recognition as an ironic, grotesque, even wicked interpreter of Russian themes in the 1920s, it might come as a surprise to find Grigoriev turning to Oriental culture, to the ancient epic Ramayana – one of the main spiritual treasures of India. The work is dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi whose philosophy of non-violence was close to the artist’s reflections on the healing power of art and the spiritual unity of the world. The painting was sold by the artist in the early 1930s, and has remained out of public view ever since.

Dmitry Levitsky, Portrait of Princess Varvara Golitsyna (1779) Oil on canvas, estimate £250,000-350,000
This rare early Russian portrait was painted at the very height of Levitsky’s career in 1779, probably just before Varvara Golitsyna’s wedding. Famed for her beauty, she was one of the favourite nieces of Prince Georgy Potemkin (the lover and confidant of Catherine the Great), and in 1777 became a lady-in-waiting to the Empress. The refinement of her dress and coiffure, her pretty face with the half-smile playing on her lips and the slightly mocking eyes, are typical of Levitsky’s oeuvre. It is likely that the painting was still hanging at Zubrilovka (the family estate) after the Princess’s death. In the early 20th century, Zubrilovka shared the same fate as many other country estates in Russia; on 19 October 1905 the house was looted and set alight. Much of the famous collection was lost forever. This work has remained in the same European collection for three generations and is offered on the market for the first time.

Dmitri Stelletsky, De l’Aube à la nuit (late 1910s), oil on canvas, est. £100,000-150,000
This allegorical painting is one of Stelletsky’s most important works, first exhibited at the Russian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1920. It remained in the artist’s collection until his death before passing into the collection of the family of the present owner, The two central figures represent the goddesses of dawn and dusk, or Zori, who according to ancient Slavic mythology are the daughters of the sun. Each morning Utrenyaya Zorya, armed with a bow and arrow, opens the gates of the Sun’s Eastern palace so that he may ride across the sky in his chariot, and in the evening her sister Vechernyaya Zorya closes them behind him.

Martiros Sarian, Pasiphaë (1912), tempera on cardboard, est. £100,000-150,000
This exceptionally rare work, inspired by Sarian’s trip to Egypt in 1911, comes directly from the collection of the artist’s family. It was executed in 1912 as an illustration to Vladimir Elsner’s poem about the Colchian princess Pasiphaë who fell in love with a white bull as a result of Poseidon's curse. In his illustration Sarian deviates from the original story by transforming the protagonist into an Egyptian priestess and the bull into an orange hippopotamus. The work was published in 1913 in Purpur kifery, the collection of erotic poems with which Elsner made his literary debut. The artist’s other illustration for the anthology is now in the collection of Martiros Sarian Museum in Yerevan.

Abram Arkhipov, Peasant Woman in a Red Dress (1922) oil on canvas, est. £180,000 - 250,000
An acclaimed genre painter who first made a name for himself with his masterpiece On the Volga at the 18th Itinerant exhibition in 1890, Arkhipov increasingly turned to portrait painting during the second half of the 1910s. His most accomplished portraits of peasant women however date from the 1920s, of which this is a magnificent example.

Arkhipov was born into a poor peasant family in a small village in Ryazan province, and the theme of Russian peasant life would be the dominating one of his career. True to the spirit of the Itinerant movement, Arkhipov’s genre works have an important undertone of social commentary. Arkhipov’s portraits from the 1920s provide a stark contrast to his earlier genre work, showing an idealised image of peasant life. With her red cheeks and confident smile, the sitter of the present work is a world apart from the scenes of hardship the artist had painted two decades earlier.

An Imperial Presentation Fabergé jewelled gold, enamel and hardstone box, MP, St Petersburg, 1899-1903 Estimate £120,000 – 180,000

This is one of 27 Imperial Presentation snuff boxes with the cypher of Emperor Nicholas II supplied by Fabergé to the Imperial Cabinet between 1899 and 1903. They ranged in cost from 800 to 2,000 rubles. At least eight were made of nephrite - the preferred hardstone in the production of Imperial Presentation boxes. Symbolising Russian hope, nephrite proclaimed the mineral wealth of the country, of which Russians and their Emperor were justly proud. Fabergé was famously the only jeweller entitled to use the prized stone, and his workmasters took full advantage of the privilege.

An Imperial Presentation jewelled gold and enamel box, Carl Blank for Hahn, St Petersburg, 1899-1908 Estimate £200,000 – 300,000
This Imperial Presentation snuff box is one of 26 with the cypher of Emperor Nicholas II supplied by Hahn to the Imperial Cabinet between 1899 and 1904 which ranged in cost from 650 to 1,832 rubles. Of these, six are recorded in the Cabinet ledgers as being of blue enamel. The recipients of these were mostly Privy or State Counsellors, their ranks ranging from Class III to Class V.

Although less venerated than Fabergé, Hahn’s production was of the finest quality and similarly prized by members of the Imperial Family. It was Hahn who created Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s coronation crown in 1896, invoiced at 76,200 rubles, and it was to Hahn, not Fabergé, that the new Empress went to purchase her first New Year’s present for her new husband in 1895, just weeks after their wedding.

Exquisite Jewels by Fabergé
A pair of Imperial Fabergé gold and enamel cufflinks, workmaster August Hollming, St Petersburg, 1899-1904, Estimate £4,000 – 6,000

These Fabergé cufflinks were given by Empress Alexandra Feodorovna to Captain T. S. Laycock (1875-1927) of the British Secret Intelligence Service who had undertaken secret missions to Russia and Roumania during the First World War. Although the precise nature of his work in Russia is unclear, he is mentioned in Queen Marie of Roumania's autobiography as exposing a plot to kill her husband, King Ferdinand. In Russia, he was awarded the Order of St Vladimir Fourth Class and the Order of St Anne Second Class, (both with swords) and was given theses cufflinks - a more personal gift from the Empress, which she purchased for 30 rubles.

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