27 November 2013
Portrait of Maria Shabshai, signed twice, once with an initial.
Oil on canvas, 116.5 by 89 cm.
Executed in 1929.
Provenance: Private collection, UK.
The work will be included in the forthcoming publication, Supplement to the Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings by R.R. Falk, being prepared by Yu. Didenko and D. Sarabianov.
The present lot was painted by Robert Falk in Paris, where he arrived for a creative sabbatical in the summer of 1928, as a Professor of the Painting Faculty at Vkhutemas, and where he remained until 1937. This period in Paris was one of the most fruitful of Falk’s creative career.
Russian émigrés were foremost in the artist’s acquaintance and social circles in this period of nearly 10 years, including many he had known in Moscow. The subject of the present portrait, Maria Lazarevna Shabshai (née Averbakh, 1890–1983), was an artist and art historian. Born in St Petersburg, she is remembered principally as one of the founders and the first curator of the Musée d’Art Juif in Paris (the forerunner of the present Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme), where she worked for quarter of a century (1948–1974) until retiring at the age of 84. She practised art in Paris, displaying her work and holding a number of personal exhibitions in the second half of the 1940s and in 1955.
An unmistakeable likeness between the portrait and archive photographs of Maria Shabshai at the end of the 1920s leaves no doubt as to the identity of the sitter. Comparative studies have established that six drawings, previously believed to be sketches for another Paris picture by Falk (Portrait of Naryshkina, 1929, Novosibirsk Art Museum), relate in fact to the present picture. Unmistakeable similarities of composition and colour between the graphic sketches and the canvas painting have enabled a new and correct identification of the model shown in these sketches, held in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow (Museum of Private Collections), the Novosibirsk Art Museum and a private collection in Moscow.
The portrait was most probably purchased by the sitter, and was duly signed by the artist. It remained in Maria Lazarevna’s house during her lifetime.
We are grateful to art historian Yulia Didenko for providing additional catalogue information.
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.