London – Portrait of a Colonel by Valentin Aleksandrovich Serov (1865-1911), leads The Russian Sale at Bonhams New Bond Street, London on Wednesday 1 December. The important work was painted shortly before the artist’s death in 1911 and was included in the landmark retrospective at The State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow in 2015, which marked the 150th anniversary of Serov’s birth.
Director of Bonhams Russian department, Daria Khristova, commented: “This late masterpiece by the great Russian realist master, Valentin Serov, perfectly demonstrates his renowned ability to capture the psychology of his sitter within his expressive brushstrokes. It is a truly captivating museum-quality work, and we are delighted to be able to offer this important signature Serov in our sale.”
Writing in Bonhams Magazine, Claire Wrathall, states: “Serov was the greatest Russian portrait painter of his generation, as well as the most valuable but he did not set out to flatter his subjects: he was interested in their souls… This is an image suffused with fortitude and resignation, and a fine example of the genius with which Serov was able to capture and convey character.”
Portrait of a Colonel was painted at the end of a decade which had seen increased social unrest in Russia, culminating in the assassination of Prime Minister, Pyotr Stolypin, in 1911. Serov had, in part, retreated into his work within ‘the World of Art group’, and aligned himself with painters such as John Singer Sargent and Diego Velázquez – finding in their art the kind of impressionism which he felt captured the real essence of a moment of time.
Despite experimenting with a modernist style in this period, Portrait of a Colonel reflects Serov’s mastery of realism, which he developed in St Petersburg and during his time in Paris. Moving within high social circles, in 1896, he was invited to contribute to the coronation portraits for the accession to the throne of Tsar Nicholas II. Serov’s ceremonial portrait of Grand Duke Pavel Alexandrovich, which received the ‘Grand prix’ at the 1900 Paris Exposition, brought the artist worldwide fame.
Portrait of a Colonel depicts an officer of the tsarist army, possibly decorated after the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). The formal yet closely observed painting echoes the portrait Serov made of Tsar Nicholas II in 1900 – who was also depicted in a grey army uniform, against a monochrome background. After the events of Bloody Sunday in 1905, when unnamed demonstrators were fired upon by members of the Imperial guard outside the Winter Palace in St Petersburg, Serov chose not to paint for the Romanov family again, and he resigned from the Imperial Academy of Arts. He died in 1911, at the age of 46.
Other highlights of the sale include:
- Boris Mikhaylovich Kustodiev (Russian, 1878-1927), Interior. Estimate: 70,000 – 90,000.
- Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (1874-1947), ‘Ancient church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin’ at city of Vladimir. Estimate: £60,000-80,000.
- Petr Petrovich Konchalovsky (Russian, 1876-1956), ‘A street in Ryazan’, 1931. Estimate: £80,000-100,000.
- Konstantin Yuon (Russian, 1875-1958), Main Entrance, Troitsky Monastery. Estimate: £15,000-20,000.
- Ivan G. Olinsky (Russian/ American, 1878-1962), Red coat (Tosca in Red). Estimate: £15,000 – 20,000.
- Ivan G. Olinsky (Russian/ American, 1878-1962), ‘Song’. Estimate: £15,000 – 18,000.
- Oleg Vasiliev (Russian, 1931-2013), Flight – In memory of Boris Sveshnikov. Estimate: £30,000 – 50,000.
- A Silver-Gilt and Plique-à-Jour Enamel Imperial Presentation Tankard. Estimate: £15,000-25,000.