27 Nov 2013 Russian Art Auctions

27 November 2013

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

Portrait of a Lady

25. BRODSKY, ISAAK (1884-1939)

Portrait of a Lady, signed and dated 1916.

Oil on canvas, 86.5 by 106.5 cm.
600,000–900,000 GBP

Provenance: Collection of E.M. Samuelson (later E.M. Gofman), at least until the 1940s.
Anonymous sale; Icons, Russian Pictures and Works of Art, Sotheby’s London, 15 December 1994, lot 81.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Important private collection, Europe.

Exhibited: I.I Brodsky. 1904–XXV–1929, Leningrad, 1929.
Yubileinaya vystavka proizvedenii zasluzhennogo deyatelya iskusstv I.I. Brodskogo. 30 let khudozhestvennoi deyatel’nosti. 1904–1934, Leningrad, Moscow, Kiev, Odessa, 1934–1935.
Zasluzhennyi deyatel’ iskusstv I.I. Brodsky. 1884–1939, The State Russian Museum, Leningrad, 1941.

Literature: Exhibition catalogue, I.I Brodsky. 1904–XXV–1929. Katalog yubileinoi vystavki, Leningrad, Yubileinyi komitet, 1929, p. 12, No. 81, listed.
Exhibition catalogue, Yubileinaya vystavka proizvedenii zasluzhennogo deyatelya iskusstv I.I. Brodskogo. 30 let khudozhestvennoi deyatel’nosti. 1904–1934, Moscow, Vsekokhudozhnik, 1934, p. 12, No. 75, listed.
I. Brodsky, Moi tvorcheskii put’, Leningrad–Moscow, Iskusstvo, 1940, pl. 59, illustrated as Portret E.S.
Exhibition catalogue, Zasluzhennyi deyatel’ iskusstv I.I. Brodsky. 1884–1939. Katalog posmertnoi vystavki, Leningrad, The State Russian Museum, 1941, No. 141, listed.
Iosif Brodsky, Isaak Izrailevich Brodsky. Stat’yi, pis’ma, dokumenty, Moscow, Sovetskii khudozhnik, 1956, p. 182, listed with incorrect measurements under works from 1916.

Portrait of a Lady is one of the best portraits painted by Isaac Brodsky in the second decade of the 20th century. At that time, having returned from a trip around Italy, the artist was working on a special kind of portraiture: portraits of imposing, society ladies that were based structurally on complex, rather theatrical, lines of perspective, sometimes including a landscape or interior setting, and almost always with a characteristic accent on colour in the form of a brightly decorated shawl. So frequently does he use this device that these huge wildly decorative shawls may even be said to become the trademark feature of his portraits of the mid 1910s (Portrait of the Artist’s Wife L.M. Brodskaya 1913, Portrait of O.D. Talalayeva 1915, Portrait of Z. Shtilman 1916, and many others). He deliberately chooses fabric in a brightly coloured floral pattern that offers maximum contrast with the predominant tone of his compositions, which are somewhat laconic in palette.

The artist was stirred, as before, by the challenge of conveying the character and creating a special mood – the atmosphere for the portrait – but simultaneously there is a vague sense of the art nouveau aesthetic in Brodsky’s images of women at this time. There is complete affinity between the characterisation of the images and their stylishness. Portrait of a Lady is a perfect example of a society portrait of its era: it is constructed entirely on decorative principles. The perspective is almost at knee height, with the model lying back, practically reclining in an armchair. The artist’s modelling of the head is meticulous, defining it in a confident, precise line in the manner of Ingres. The light rhythm of the line continues in the arms, seen through semi-transparent lace, and the elegant hands with softly curving fingers. The long, supple lines of the drawing, the seemingly flowing folds of draped cloth, the elongated proportions and the slightly pretentious grace running through the entire portrait are all features characteristic of the age of art nouveau.

Colour, composition and perspective all fail to offer a way round the space occupied by the figure of the woman in the portrait. The only way of finding one’s bearings in this rich graphic spectacle is through the freedom of model’s pose. The chief factors here are the asymmetric composition, the eye-catching affectation emphasised by the flowing lines of the silhouette, the fine delineation of the figure and the rhythmic quality of the background, presenting, as so often in the work of art nouveau masters, a unique symphony of colour.

The Russian version of salon art nouveau,reaches its height in Brodsky's portraits of the 1910s. This portrait was rightly accorded high value by the artist himself, who took pleasure in showing it at first at the Union exhibition, and then at his one-man anniversary exhibitions. The undeniable beauty of the model has even led several specialists to claim that the woman portrayed was the well-known actress and film star Natalia Rozenel-Lunacharskaya, the wife of Anatoly Lunacharsky. Thus it was in 1994, that the painting was sold at Sotheby’s as Portrait of N. Rozenel-Lunacharskaya, which indicates a certain likeness between the actress and the woman depicted. However, additional research and the archival records of the Memorial Flat of I. Brodsky have unmistakeably identified the sitter as E.M. Samuelson. For many years the portrait remained in the possession of the model who, in marrying Gofman, married into the family of the artist (the maiden name of Brodsky’s wife was Gofman). Its exhibition history, and also the outstanding quality of its execution, make Portrait of a Lady one of the most interesting of Brodsky’s works to have been released from private hands in recent years.

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.