5 June 2013
Sleeping Lady, signed and dated 1920.
Oil on canvas, laid on cardboard, 22 by 27 cm.
Provenance: The painting was commissioned by A.A. Korshun from the artist in 1920.
Collection of A.A. Korshun, Pskov and later Leningrad (inscription on the reverse).
Collection of R.I. Kaplan-Ingel (stamp on the reverse).
Acquired by the great-grandfather of the present owner.
Private collection, Europe.
Exhibited: Works by K.A. Somov, The Kiev National Museum of Russian Art, 29 January 1971–22 March 1971, No. 12175 (label on the backing board).
Related Literature: For reference to the work's commissioning, see K.A. Somov, Mir khudozhnika. Pis'ma. Dnevniki. Suzhdeniya sovremennikov, Moscow, Iskusstvo, 1979, p. 197, entry 11 on 3 March .
The theme of sleeping young women, immersed in the refined and slightly frivolous atmosphere of an era of crinolines and face powder, masked balls and fin de siècle nostalgia, is one of the most entrancing of Konstantin Somov’s oeuvre.
The present lot was commissioned in 1920 by Alexei Korshun (1901–1944) who worked with the Pskov department for the protection of artistic heritage and antiquities; Korshun was an art historian and keen collector who collected works by all the World of Art artists. A surviving entry from Somov’s diaries reads: “Sleeping lady (pale blue dress, yellow furniture) Oval picture, oil. cr. February). Owner – Alexei Alexeievich Korshun. Pskov”. And later, under 3rd March 1920: “Korshun arrived from Pskov. Asked to stay the night. Brought some bread and Russian butter. He liked the picture and we settled up. I received 3 thousand, 23 lbs bread, 3 lbs butter, 4 lbs meat, 10 lbs rye flour and ¾ lb pork fat (15 thousand)...”
The picture Korshun commissioned is both a continuation, and independent part of the cycle of sleeping ladies that begins with the famous Young Woman Sleeping of 1909 in the State Tretyakov Gallery and Sleeping Young Woman in Profile in the State Russian Museum. Korshun’s picture took the slight veil of eroticism of his early variations, inherent in the facial expression of the charming woman slumbering on a divan, a languorous smile crossing her lips, and added something extra – a hint of irony to this world of rococo, costume balls, delicate porcelain figurines, elegant beauty spots, costly silks and crinolines.
In Sleeping Lady the material world represented is as exquisite as the female subject herself. Somov has a way of enhancing the atmosphere of sensual delight that infuses the picture and the ability to show the charm of things, these earthly relics, to lead the viewer into an “enchanted kingdom of inanimate objects” (Sergei Makovsky).
The naturalness of the bouquet of delicate wild flowers on the table by the bed accentuates the refinement of the decor, in which the woman’s figure is arranged like an expensive ornament among the china vases, flowerpots, Meissen figures and embroidered cushions. The scene is played out in a very limited crowded space. The sleeping lady is positioned right at the forefront, parallel to the canvas plane. Only the cloudy blue sky and green walk beyond the window provide a glimpse on to the distant idealised space of formal gardens.
The subtlety of painting in miniature, the rigorous draughtsmanship and the decorative placing of colour, all combine to make this piece of artistic retrospection one of the most recognisable and distinctive of Somov’s works.
Notes on symbols:
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