MacDougall's Russian Art Auctions 1-2 Dec 2010

1 December 2010

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

Young Woman in a Red Beret

* 407. MAKOVSKY, KONSTANTIN 1839-1915

Young Woman in a Red Beret signed

Oil on canvas, 61.5 by 51 cm.
150,000-200,000 GBP

Provenance: Private collection, Europe.

Authenticity has been confirmed by the expert E. Nesterova.
Authenticity has been confirmed by the expert V. Petrov.
The work will be included in the forthcoming monograph on Konstantin Makovsky, prepared by E. Nesterova.

A brilliant portraitist of the St Petersburg aristocracy, Konstantin Makovsky has entered the annals of art history via his celebrations of beautiful women. Young Woman in a Red Beret is an outstanding example of Makovsky’s mastery as an artist. The expressiveness of the work is not only typical of the artist’s personal style, but it is also a consummate achievement in its own way.

Painted using an concrete model, Young Woman in a Red Beret nevertheless approaches the ideal image of the female head, which has been perfected many times in the history of world figurative art. Using different techniques of various Old Masters, for example "a Bryullov-style base coat, liquid and enchantingly colourful" and a background using Van Dyck’s favourite shades, the artist has produced an elegiac image of a contemporary woman with a charm of an Old Master portrait.

At the same time, following in the tradition of Greuze and Rotari, with their portraits of pretty women, Makovsky brings more variety to his painting with a broad-brush, more vivacious relaxed and virtuosic technique, creating a "breathing", rough surface to the canvas. Perhaps the artist does not tackle the psychological aspect of the image, but he skilfully puts the model into a gently romantic mood and has a wonderful feeling for the significance of details and their placing in the overall composition of the work. The nosegay pinned to the bodice of the lady’s light-coloured dress allows the artist to emphasise the pearly whiteness of her breast and create an image which combines magnificence with intimacy, a gently erotic nuance with a generally elegiac mood, while at the same time preserving the directness of the portrayal.

Makovsky painted most of his portraits in a single sitting. The artist’s son, the well-known art critic Sergei Makovsky, remembered how swiftly his father worked on his portraits, how inspired he was, "with what immediacy, as if not needing even to think, as if the colours mixed themselves on his palette and his brushes flew across the canvas of their own accord, leaving dabs of paint in exactly the right place…"

It is well known that ladies queued up to be immortalised in his portraits. Elena Nesterova, author of a monograph on Konstantin Makovsky, suggests that "one of the factors leading women to commission him was the beauty of Yulia Pavlovna Makovskaya (the artist’s wife), his regular and favourite model. In the master’s gallery of female portraits, those of Yulia have always outshone the rest. The first — Yulia in a Red Beret with an Ostrich Feather — was painted in Nice where, 17 years of age and pregnant, she was building up her strength […] Makovsky’s brush, well used to portraying those familiar features, could not help but seek them out in the faces of others, giving them an elegance and charm which, in some cases, was not naturally theirs. This was helpful to many women who dreamed of bearing a resemblance, however slight, to Yulia Pavlovna. 'He did not worry too much about verisimilitude,' recalled art historian P.P. Gnedich of Makovsky. 'He would say, with a smile, that the woman will have changed anyway within ten years and will be unrecognisable. You can take a photograph if you want a resemblance… The artist’s concerns are something else entirely'."

And indeed, in the Young Woman in a Red Beret we can see a certain resemblance to the features of Yulia Pavlovna Makovskaya, whom the artist had married in January 1875, having waited until this "angel of ineffable beauty", as Repin called Yulia Pavlovna, was 16 years of age. But, obviously, the far later date of the painting of this portrait does not allow us to link it with any degree of certainty to the name of the artist’s wife.

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.