How Soviet Artists Traveled: Instagram in the 19th and 20th century

“All Quiet on the Oder River”, Dmitry Baltermants.
(MacDougall’s Fine Art Auctions)

Very little, as Catherine MacDougall of MacDougall’s Fine Art Auctions admits, is known about Russian photography. Which signifies "excellent investment opportunities” for shrewd art collectors.

Herein lies the reason behind World Through Pilgrims’ Eyes, its inaugural sale of rare 19th and 20th century photography next month. All the works up for auction were obtained directly from artist estates. 


Happening May 21 at 2pm, viewing will take place at its London premises (30A Charles II Street) from April 28 to May 20 from 10am to 6pm, Mondays through Fridays, as well as on May 21 itself from 10am to 2pm.

One highlight is a set of six daguerreotypes—photographic images formed on silver surfaces—created by early European master Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey during his trips to Italy and Cairo in 1842–1844.

Call it travel snapshots from the 19th century, if you will. Oddly enough, the pioneering travel photographer's works were never exhibited when he was alive; it took one whole century after his death for him to make a splash in the art world.

In 2003, one of his daguerreotypes sold for close to a million dollars, setting a world record; at the upcoming MacDougall auction, his “Rome. Vatican. La Pigna.” is estimated to sell for a relatively modest range between £20,000–30,000.

As it is, a second photography auction, Classical Russian 19th–21st Century Photography, will take place on June 8, with an extensive range of works spanning the history of Russian photography from the 19th century to now. A series of lectures and exhibitions about Russian photography is also in the works.

See some of the works for auction—capturing the world from the perspective of Soviet artists—here.

Catherine MacDougall called the above "just the tip of the iceberg". In line with MacDougall’s Fine Art Auctions’ newly launched department of international photography, she says the auctioneer—which specializes in Russian art—intends to bring Russian photography to life.

Other highlights of the May 21 auction include:

- A four-photograph series of female nudes by Alexander Grinberg from the 1920s to the early 1930s, estimated to go for £1,000–2,000 each. Grinberg is said to be a relatively unknown “Russian genius” to the Western world. In 1936, an exhibition of female nudes led to his arrest and prosecution by the Stalin regime under the charges of pornography.

Alexander Rodchenko's album of portraits dedicated to his muse Tatiana Maliutina, estimated to sell for £15,000–20,000.

- Classic Russian photography masterpieces, including Alexander Khlebnikov's “Milk”, estimated to sell between £1,500– 2,000; and Boris Ignatovich's “Military Exercise”, estimated to sell for £2,000–3,000.