MacDougall's 7 June Russian Art Auction features an early work by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin: Portrait of an African Boy. He painted the masterpiece in 1907 during a two-month trip to Algeria and Tunisia. This expressive, rather intimate image of a child was created during the artist's visit to Biskra, a town in northern Algeria.
Petrov-Vodkin’s Tunisian and Algerian works, executed in oils, are encountered extremely rarely in private collections, and their value is obvious. The artist only created a few paintings from the sketches and watercolours of 1907 that he brought back from Africa. The Portrait of an African Boy, painted from life, holds a special place in that group.
The work’s provenance is also noteworthy. The portrait used to be in the collection of the eminent art historian and writer Alexander Gidoni, and later formed part of the collection of the distinguished Soviet scientist Lev Loitsiansky. The work has a commendable exhibition history and has been published several times — an unquestionable indication of the museum quality of this magnificent canvas.
“Nowadays no one seems to be any longer in doubt that, in Petrov-Vodkin, Russian and Soviet art had a master of vast scope, profoundly unconventional and original, an artist and philosopher who strove to understand and bring to life in his art a person, an object, an occurrence or the universe in all their complexity and depth. It is precisely such people, rare by the very nature of their talent, who more than all others carry forward the artistic cognition of the world,” wrote Yury Rusakov, an expert on the artist’s work.
Two other notable Islamic scenes of the 20s and 30s in MacDougall's auction are a view of Istanbul by Alexei Grishenko, from a European collector, and of Tunis by Alexander Yakovlev, from an American collection.
MacDougall's Russian Art Auction 7 June is an exciting mini-anthology of Russian Art, and so includes all periods from icons to contemporary. Russian Classic art features work by such masters as Shishkin, Maliavin, Korovin, Petrov-Vodkin, and Polenov, while the Avant-garde section is covered by important names such as Shterenberg, Goncharova. Serebriakova and Baranoff-Rossiné are among the artists representing Émigré art. Later 20th century art is a traditional strong point at MacDougall’s, with Soviet masters as well as Nonconformist and Perestroika art represented by Gerasimov, Terpsikhorov, Nissky, Mylnikov, and Komar and Melamid’s iconic Yalta Conference.