MacDougall's Russian Art Auctions 8-9 June 2011

8 June 2011

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

Portrait of the Singer Nadezhda Plevitskaya,

* 59. MALIAVIN, PHILIPPE (1869-1940)

Portrait of the Singer Nadezhda Plevitskaya, signed twice and dated 1924, further inscribed in Czech and with exhibition stamps on the reverse.

Oil on canvas, 92 by 65 cm.
180,000-250,000 GBP

Provenance: Acquired at the 1934 exhibition by Karl Veselik, Prague.
The collection of Soňa Červená (B. 1925), a world renowned operatic mezzo-soprano, Czech Republic.
Private collection, Europe.

Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the experts I. Geraschenko and V. Petrov.

Exhibited: Philippe Maliavin Exhibition, Pavilion "Mysl Veka", Prague, 1 October-31 December 1934 (inscription on the reverse).

While still in Russia, Philippe Andreevich Maliavin had won fame as an authentic Russian artist. His joyful, colourful canvases introduced a special mood into any art exhibition and came to embody the true Russian temperament.

His rich, "sprawling" painterly style itself embodied an innovative attitude towards technique, free from derivation and feeble imitation of foreign art. A taste for national flavour became a distinguishing mark of all the artist's paintings. Having found fame at an early stage for his sensual, refined and accurately rendered images of his contemporaries, characterized by a deep insight into the inner world of his model, at a certain point Maliavin changed the intensity of his palette, turning expressive colour into his main artistic weapon. After the calm tones and restrained colour scheme of his portraits of Konstantin Somov and Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva the artist produces the literally "explosive" canvases Laughter and Whirlwind which became undisputed trademarks of his style.

This portrait of the renowned Russian singer of peasant folksong Nadezhda Plevitskaya was painted in 1924, when Maliavin had already emigrated to Brussels. Plevitskaya's popularity with all strata of Russian society was extraordinary. This legendary diva was highly esteemed by the singers Leonid Sobinov and Fedor Shalyapin. Sergei Rachmaninoff himself accompanied her, and the Russian Tsar Nicholas II called her - and with justification - the "Kursk nightingale" for the rare and especially beautiful timbre of her voice.

The exceptionally beautiful colouring of this work, awash with all conceivable shades, is like a rare gem, cut so as to radiate a wonderful luminescence. These saturated tones and deliberately florid colour mix were something of a departure from the viscous, "treacly" plasticity of the artist's Russian works which, despite apparently bright colour accents, were confined to the heavy, umber end of the spectrum. However, the unabashed, colourful decorativeness of the Plevitskaya portrait does not in any way eclipse the expressive qualities of this pictorial representation of his model's personality. In this instance Maliavin the portraitist overrides Maliavin the colourist, carefully and accurately reflecting, first and foremost, the psychological world of his subject.

The general joyful, festive impression left by this work is like the sparkling rhythm of a mosaic. The powerful sense of Russian folk art, of a captivating fairy-tale "narrative" brilliantly echoes the elegiac lyricism of Vrubel's Volkhova, transporting the viewer to a world of languorous, dreamy visions - of music, poetry and delicately shrouded in lyricism. An Art Nouveau-style plastic fluidity of form was for many years the identifying feature of Maliavin's work.

The present work is particularly life-like, profound and psychologically perceptive. It numbers among the most outstanding works that Philippe Maliavin produced in emigration. Until recently little was known to the Russian public about this painting and we are especially proud to introduce this genuine masterpiece by an outstanding Russian artist into the current sale.

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.