MacDougall's Russian Art Auctions 8-9 June 2011

8 June 2011

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

Shepherd in a Felt Cloak against a Red Background.

41. PIROSMANI, NIKO (1863-1918)

Shepherd in a Felt Cloak against a Red Background.

Oil on oilcloth, laid on canvas, 103.5 by 50 cm.
600,000-800,000 GBP

Provenance: The David and Eteri Kakabadze collection, Georgia.
A gift from the wife of the artist Eteri Andronikashvili Kakabadze to the previous owner in the 1980s.
Private collection, Riga.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Private collection, UK.

Exhibited: Exhibition of Works by Niko Pirosmanashvili, Society of Georgian Artists, Tbilisi, Georgia, 25 April-27 March 1927.
Exhibition of Works by Niko Pirosmanashvili, National Gallery of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia, August 1930.
Exhibition of Works by Niko Pirosmanashvili, The State Russian Museum, Leningrad, 1930.
Exhibition of Works by Niko Pirosmanashvili, Kharkov, Kiev, Odessa, Ukraine, January-February 1931.
Exhibition of Works by Niko Pirosmanashvili, from the State Museum of Arts of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, from the Kutaisi Gallery of Georgian Fine Art, from the House Museum of Niko Pirosmanashvili in Mirzaani and from Tbilisi private collections, The State Museum of Arts of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, Tbilisi, Georgia, 1978.

Literature: K. Zdanevich, Niko Pirosmanashvili, Moscow, Iskusstvo,1964, p. 40.
E. Kuznetsov, Niko Pirosmani, Leningrad, Aurora Art Publishers, 1984, plate 10, illustrated; p. 297, No. 111, listed and p. 298, illustrated.

The art of Niko Pirosmani is unique, not only in Georgian and Russian culture but also in the world. The originality and sincerity of folk Primitivism, particularly of the 20th century, has attracted genuine, widespread interest from art experts. In France there was Henri Rousseau, in Croatia Ivan Generalićand in Georgia none other than the legendary Niko Pirosmanashvili. The boldness and directness of his conception of naïve painting have ensured him equal ranking with the experimental work of the avant-garde. It was no accident that he was spotted by the then young but already well-known Moscow painters the Zdanevich brothers and Mikhail Le Dantu. Pirosmani exhibited with them at the legendary Target exhibition of "left" artists, and was from then onwards associated with the most progressive and innovative art.

These days one very rarely comes across Pirosmani's works in either private or corporate collections so we are delighted to be able to present this magnificent canvas. It appears to have been painted in the mid-1910s, at the peak of his mature talent. At that time Pirosmani was largely painting on his distinctive, small-grained, black oilcloth, which helped him develop his unique and very particular style. The minimalist colour range and the economy of line in the figure of the shepherd command the viewer's gaze, impossible to ignore. The contrasting red and black create the atmosphere of an intense, ceremonial formality. In the characterisation offered in this engaging image, the extreme stylisation of the man's facial features achieves the counter-intuitive effect of expressivity and acute individuality. It is of course impossible to establish the identity of this dignified and proud shepherd, as it is with most of Pirosmani's subjects. But there is no reason to doubt that a real person posed for him, a person who knew him and even, possibly, commissioned this picture to immortalise himself and thwart the hand of destiny.

Art historian Erast Kuznetsov, a Pirosmani specialist, wrote in his book that: "The creative process is always an enigma, but Pirosmani's creative process is doubly enigmatic, so we can only speculate. It is doubtful that, when starting work, he saw in his mind's eye the finished work complete and in detail, or envisaged how he would reproduce what he saw (as some artists in fact could, artists with a phenomenal visual imagination, such as Mikhail Vrubel)… Whatever dispassionate rationalism might have been in Pirosmani's character was totally dominated by his passion and spontaneity. The purely painterly nature of his work did not recognise drawing as an independent category and his draughtsmanship, which is extremely confident and accurate (although not Academic), could exist only as a part of his painterly rendition. And, finally, he was undoubtedly a great improviser, allowing him to make changes very easily to an already-started picture in the course of the work, to introduce new details and even new characters…"

We were genuinely excited when this distinctive work by the great Primitive painter Niko Pirosmanishvili appeared. Although Shepherd in a Felt Cloak against a Red Background, which comes from the well-known series of rural and urban characters from his native Georgia, has a distinguished provenance and has been published many times, the appearance of such a masterpiece outside of a museum context is almost always a source of delight and surprise.

Shepherd in a Felt Cloak against a Red Background.
Shepherd in a Felt Cloak against a Red Background.

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.