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Size matters in Russian art sale


It costs an arm and a leg, but it doesn`t have a sell-by date. A precious haul of Russian art, with many pieces on the market for the first time in decades, is expected to fetch seven-figure prices at Christie`s upcoming sale in London.

ґOne of the world`s oldest auction houses is to offer "rediscovered treasures" by some of Russia`s brightest artists, including Vasily Vereshchagin, Boris Grigoriev, Natalia Goncharova and Filipp Maliavin.

The most sought-after lot is Vasily Vereshchagin`s masterpiece Crucifixion by the Romans. The canvas with an estimate of $1,590,000 - $2,385,000 will be presented to an international audience for the first time in 80 years, on November 28.

Epic in scale and content, the work of monumental size was painted in Paris in Vereshchagin`s studio, which was specially designed for the execution of over-sized canvasses. In sharp contrast to traditional depictions of the crucifixion, Vereshchagin positions his Christ on the extreme right of the painting, turning the main spotlight onto the crowd, which the viewer feels part of.

Another prominent Russian artist with a penchant for "oversized" creations was Viktor Vasnetsov, whose Bogatyr has been described by art historians as "truly iconic".

With generous support from Moscow merchants and art collectors Savva Mamontov and Pavel Tretyakov, Vasnetsov`s studio allowed him to work on a monumental scale. His most famous masterpiece Bogatyrs, on display at the State Tretyakov Gallery, was created there.

The artist returned to his favorite theme once more in 1915, depicting one of Russia`s most famous folk-heroes, Ilya Muromets.

Christie`s Bogatyr is a version of this monumental painting, estimated at $477,000 - $795,000. Showing a brave warrior astride a rearing horse, the work has been in the family of the present owner since the 1920s, and has never before been put on the market, either privately or through public auction.

A colossal landscape by one of the most celebrated Russian maritime painters of all time, Rufin Sudkovskii, is also on the Christie`s menu.

Heavily influenced by Ivan Aivazovsky, Sudkovskii depicted the sea in different states. The massive size of his Storm by Odessa (estimate: $1,590,000 - $2,385,000) allowed the artist to dramatize the vastness of the sea, showing the uncontrollable force of nature.

The upcoming sale will also mark the first appearance at auction of Marie Vassilieff?s key painting - The Dance (front) and A Cubist Portrait (back) (estimate: $636,000 - $954,000).

The Russian artist arrived in Paris in 1905 on a grant from Empress Alexandra Feodorovna; five years later, she founded the Académie Russe. Later renamed the Académie Vassilieff, it was a Mecca for the Parisian avant-garde with Picasso, Braque and Modigliani becoming regulars. Inspired by the movement`s masters, Vassilieff embraced Cubism, exploring the vibrant potential of blues, reds and yellows. Critics have called her works presented at Christie`s a "fusion of her native Russian sensibilities with the energy and experimentation of Paris in the early 20th century."

The November sale will also put the spotlight on a group of works by the so-called Nonconformists` movement. Ilya Kabakov`s Landscape with Pines (estimate: ($397,500 - $556,500) was created just after the artist left the Soviet Union to be confronted with a new Western reality. The work is part of the 1990 installation He Lost His Mind, Undressed, Ran Away Naked, exhibited at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in New York the same year.

Apart from paintings, the sale features other remarkable objects d`art, including two pairs of porcelain vases manufactured by the Imperial Porcelain Factory during the reign of Emperor Nicholas I. One pair is said to be "the grandest to appear at auction in recent memory", painted with scenes after Philips Wouwerman (estimate: $2,703,000 - $3,498,000).

Two newly-discovered clocks with imperial provenance lead a rich selection of over forty works by Fabergé. A jeweled green guilloché enameled clock designed by head work-master Michael Perchin and purchased from Fabergé by the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna on New Year`s Eve 1899, for 700 roubles, has been in private hands since before the Second World War and will go under the hammer for the first time (estimate: $159,000 - $238,500).

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