MacDougall's Russian Art Auctions 25-27 November 2019

25 November 2019

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

Autumn. The Student’s Farewell

209. KUSTODIEV, BORIS (1878–1927)

Autumn. The Student’s Farewell, signed and dated 1923.

Oil on canvas, 42 by 51 cm.
1,500,000–2,000,000 GBP

Provenance: Collection of Pyotr Kapitsa (1894–1984), a physicist and Nobel laureate, until 1984.
Private collection, Europe.

Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert V. Petrov.
Authenticity has also been confirmed by the expert A. Gusarova.
Authenticity has also been confirmed by the experts O. Atroshchenko and I. Gerashchenko.

Exhibited: Posmertnaia vystavka proizvedenii B.M. Kustodieva, The State Russian Museum, Leningrad, December 1928.
Vystavka proizvedenii russkogo iskusstva kontsa XIX i nachala XX vv. Zhivopis, skulptura, grafika. Iz chastnykh sobranii, Moscow, Tsentralnyi dom rabotnikov iskusstv, 1957 (label on the stretcher).
Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev, 1878–1927, Academy of Arts of the USSR, Moscow, 1960 (label on the stretcher).
Vystavka proizvedenii B.M. Kustodieva, Kiev National Museum of Russian Art, Kiev, 1960 (label on the stretcher).
Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev (1878–1927). K 100-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia, Research Museum of the Academy of Arts of the USSR, Leningrad, 1978.

Literature: V. Voinov, B.M. Kustodiev, Leningrad, Gosudarstvennoe izdatelstvo, 1925, p. 87, listed under the works from 1923 as Provody studenta.
Exhibition catalogue, Katalog posmertnoi vystavki proizvedenii B.M. Kustodieva, Leningrad, The State Russian Museum, 1928, p. 29, No. 206, listed as Osen. Provody.
Exhibition catalogue, Vystavka proizvedenii russkogo iskusstva kontsa XIX i nachala XX vv. Zhivopis, skulptura, grafika. Iz chastnykh sobranii, Moscow, 1957, p. 9, listed as Osen.
M. Etkind, Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev, Leningrad–Moscow, 1960, p. 204, listed under the works from 1923 as Osen. Provody.
Exhibition catalogue, Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev, 1878–1927, Moscow, Izdatelstvo Akademii khudozhestv SSSR, 1960, p. 58, listed under the works from 1923.
V. Lebedeva, Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev, Moscow, Nauka, 1966, p. 146, illustrated; p. 238, listed.
Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev. Pisma. Statii, zametki, interviiu. Vstrechi i besedy s Kustodievym (Iz dnevnikov Vs. Voinova). Vospominaniia o khudozhnike, Leningrad, Khudozhnik RSFSR, 1967, illustration between pages 352 and 353.
Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev (1878–1927). Katalog vystavki k 100-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia, Leningrad, Research Museum of the Academy of Arts of the USSR, 1978, p. 46, listed under the works from 1923.
M. Etkind, Boris Kustodiev, Moscow, Sovetskii khudozhnik, 1982, p. 220, ill. 153, illustrated; p. 232, No. 641, listed.
M. Etkind (ed.), Boris Kustodiev. Paintings. Graphic Works. Book Illustrations. Theatrical Designs, Leningrad, Aurora Art Publishers, 1983, ill. 171, illustrated; p. 277, listed.

The work Autumn. The Student’s Farewell, now presented for auction, is an outstanding example of Boris Kustodiev’s painting in the 1920s. It has been published many times and has an impeccable, distinguished provenance. Mentioned in the first monograph on Kustodiev, written during the artist’s lifetime by Vsevolod Voinov in 1925, the picture has never disappeared into obscurity among researchers, collectors and art connoisseurs. With different titles — from the artist’s Autumn. The Student’s Farewell to the brief Autumn or Farewell — it was displayed at exhibitions in Leningrad, Moscow and Kiev throughout the 20th century, showcasing Kustodiev’s work alongside his best “museum” pieces. The painting took its place, in particular, at the major exhibition of 1928, which summed up the artist’s work, and at the landmark 1978 exhibition marking the centenary of Kustodiev’s birth.

The appearance on the art market of a work of this standing, coming from the collection of the famous physicist and Nobel Prize winner Pyotr Kapitsa, should be seen as a rare and undoubted piece of good fortune. The artist’s daughter Irina recalled that Kapitsa, then a student, was first brought to their house in the autumn of 1921 by a family friend, Pyotr Sidorov, who had arrived from Samara and had been living in Kustodiev’s apartment for some time. “P.L. Kapitsa came to our evening gatherings on various occasions, took part in charades, played pranks, made merry and showed tricks, ‘swallowing’ knives and forks,” she wrote (Boris Kustodiev. Pisma, zametki, intervyu ..., Moscow, 1966, pp. 325–326).

Every year, when he came home on vacation from Cambridge, Kapitsa would unfailingly pay a visit to Kustodiev and bring the artist some oil paints, which were in short supply in Petrograd. It was probably during one of these visits that the artist presented the scientist with the picture, and it remained in Kapitsa’s house in England, and later in Moscow, until virtually the end of the 20th century.

Evidently, Kapitsa was very fond of Autumn. The Student’s Farewell and proud of it: he eagerly lent out the picture for various exhibitions and supplied photographs of it for publication. It is likely that the famous scientist was impressed by the iconic nature of the work, which reflected the time of change that he had to live through in the post-revolutionary period. Thematically, the picture is unmistakably bidding farewell to the Old Russia that was so close to the artist and the contemporary intellectual élite. And of course, to Pyotr Kapitsa, who left Russia in 1921 and spent years abroad, later to return in 1934 to a completely different, unfamiliar world.

Both the title and the setting, a street in a remote provincial town, convey not only a clear sense of the experience gained by Kustodiev as a painter who had become famous for his “provincial genres”, but also reflect his work in the theatre. Indeed, the design and structure of the composition are such that the picture is first perceived as a fine, decorative townscape with small, staffage figures of ordinary locals. But then, upon closer examination, a dramatic narrative element, ostensibly of secondary importance, takes on its own, convincing degree of naturalness and authenticity. The individual story of a young man’s departure from his father’s house comes to be a cultural and iconic symbol for many generations of Russians.

Avoiding close-ups, the artist seems to be looking down on the action from a theatre dress circle, and he divides the space into several scenes. The events unfold at a cobbled crossroads, flanked, as though on a proscenium, by the houses and trees of stage sets in the wings, behind which one can see, descending abruptly into the far distance, a theatre curtain presenting a bright backdrop landscape with striking, unrealistically pale crowns of trees, a boundless, greenish-blue, slightly overcast sky, a church with a bell tower — invariably present in Kustodiev’s paintings — and the pure, blue curve of the Volga near the horizon.

By one or two details, the artist tells us quite eloquently about each of his characters, who have clearly defined roles in society, and about their habits, social status and outward demeanour. A dashing cab driver holds onto a trunkful of belongings with one hand, while a red-bearded, stylishly dressed young man says his last goodbyes from the moving carriage to his relatives. His mother, wrapped in a big white shawl with green stripes, is wiping away her tears, his brother and sister, still at high school, are waving goodbye, and an old man wearing an out-of-date, military-style over- coat, who has evidently found it hard to reach the corner with everyone else and is leaning on a stick, is now silently staring after the departing boy. We see the invariable features of the Kustodiev town environment — a kalach bakery sign and a poster-display pillar — as well as a smoking steamer at the quayside, which the central character is probably in such a hurry to board. Behind this setting, one can clearly discern both the household cares preceding the farewells and the daily routine of the sub- sequent sleepy and cosy provincial life that will continue in anticipation of letters from someone who will by then be living in the capital.

Although flecks of sunlight still cover the roadway and settle on the houses, casting soft shadows, the day, bathed in soft autumnal warmth, is already declining. The colour scheme of the composition is based on a striking, decorative harmony of bright orange-yellow, green and pale pink-fawn tones. The artist uses small, textured brushstrokes that form spatial planes and shape the tiny figures.

The significant decorative role of the line, the silhouette and the splash of colour, as well as a sonority of vivid colours that harks back to primitive art, create the picture’s recognisable Kustodiev style and an impression of heart-warming, joyous inspiration.

Despite the sadness of the event, the parting scene has been handled quite exuberantly and with a palpable zest for life that was always peculiar to Kustodiev in his best works, since, by his own admission, he sought to be the “painter of happiness”. The atmosphere of the small Volga town, which Kustodiev reproduced from memory, impresses one with its heartfelt, everyday credibility. However, just like Kustodiev’s human characters, the landscape too reveals a special kind of idyllic amalgamation. One may see in it individual features of Kineshma, Yaroslavl or other towns on the upper Volga, but, strung together as they are, these architectural impressions have been transformed into a harmonious generalisation, harking back to a mass of identifiable motifs, yet, at the same time, to nothing specific. According to the recollections of Kustodiev’s son, if someone recognised, for example, Kostroma in one of the paintings, the artist used to say: “No, it’s an imaginary town, put together from different places.” The same can be said about the setting of Autumn. The Student’s Farewell too.

In the 1920s, the onset of a long illness meant that Kustodiev was unable to work out of doors. The practice of painting from memory, making equal use of authentic and imaginary detail, asserted itself more and more firmly in his pictures. The inner gaze offered incomparably more diverse pictorial motifs than ordinary sight. In a hungry post-revolutionary Petrograd, the artist had visions of abundant fairs and festivals, countryside harvests flooded with summer light, unhurried provincial tea parties, brightly- coloured merchants’ shawls and fragrant kalachi. “Kustodiev Town”, as the writer Yevgeny Zamyatin dubbed it in an article, came to be for the artist something akin to a new version of the legendary city of Kitezh, a pipe dream about a wonderful world of prosperous provinces, about a Russia that never existed as such, but as seen from the distant, classically cold, Europeanised imperial capital, locked in its stone ensembles of streets and squares.

The work Autumn. The Student’s Farewell, now to be auctioned, is not only an outstanding work by a great master, fit to grace any collection. The picture is also, in a way, a reflection of the tugging of the heartstrings experienced by the Russian cultural élite in the 1920s, a time that is in keeping with the period of change that Russia is also experiencing at present, with nostalgia for the past and hopes for a positive future.

Notes on symbols:
* Indicates 5% Import Duty Charge applies.
Ω Indicates 20% Import Duty Charge applies.
§ Indicates Artist's Resale Right applies.
† Indicates Standard VAT scheme applies, and the rate of 20% VAT will be charged on both hammer price and premium.