27 November 2013
Still Life with Peonies, signed.
Oil on canvas, 80.5 by 80.5 cm.
Executed in the 1930s–1940s.
Provenance: Anonymous sale; Russian Art Evening, Sotheby’s London, 24 November 2008, lot 54.
Private collection, Europe.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert T. Zelyukina.
Authenticity has also been confirmed by the expert I. Geraschenko.
Related literature: For another version of the present lot, see exhibition catalogue, Aleksandr Mikhailovich Gerasimov, Moscow, Vsekokhudozhnik, 1936, Peonies, illustrated.
Alexander Gerasimov’s Still Life with Peonies represents one of his favourite subjects – exuberant bouquets of blossoming flowers by a window opening on to the greenery of a garden bathed in sunlight. Stalin’s “court painter”, Gerasimov would, as it were, unburden his soul in his landscapes, and particularly in his still lifes, as a digression from official Party commissions.
When undertaking floral compositions the artist most often painted roses, which could lend a festive feeling to mundane subject matter. Often, however, this classic Soviet painter was attracted by the sensuous luxuriance of peonies in bloom. The present lot is a later version of his 1929 work Peonies in the collection of the Sochi Museum of Art. There are similar still life paintings at the Residence of the Russian Ambassador in Warsaw and at the National Museum of Russian Art in Kiev.
Unsurpassed in his masterly painting of flower arrangements, Gerasimov sculpts the peony heads in broad impasto, recreating in three dimensions the almost tangible shape of the blooms in their abandoned luxury. His accentuation of their supple upward thrust, the richness of their delicate colours and his free, confident and energetic technique all serve to create the effect of fireworks in a picture that embodies the artist’s unflagging optimism and faith in the renewed well-being of the world around him.
Still Life with Peonies was painted in the 1930s, a period when the Soviet Union was to experience great achievements and huge ordeals. The wider Soviet public came to be captivated by the healing charge of positive energy contained in Gerasimov’s works like the painting offered here at auction. The extent of this impact, as the artist himself would declare, bewildered him. As, in the 1936 exhibition dedicated to his then 25-year career as an artist, many visitors surprised the painter by paying much more attention to his still-life composition View of a Terrace After the Rain (1935) than to his monumental picture First Cavalry Army.
Still Life with Peoniesis unquestionably one of the artist’s finest works, of undoubted interest to museums, worthy of an important place in any major collection of Russian painting.
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.