26 November 2014
Still Life with Lilacs, Blue Cup and Two Books, signed and dated 1949, also further signed, dated and numbered "1527" on the reverse.
Oil on canvas, 153.5 by 200 cm.
Provenance: Previously at the Hotel Leningradskaya, Moscow.
Russian Pictures, Sotheby’s London, 20 November 2002, lot 92.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Important private collection, Europe.
Literature: Konchalovsky. Khudozhestvennoe nasledie, Moscow, Iskusstvo, 1964, p. 152, listed as “zhi 1237”.
Pyotr Konchalovsky’s famous “Lilacs” may be called the artist’s visiting card of the 1930s to 1950s and the high point of Soviet still life. For thirty years Konchalovsky painted lilac blossom every spring, and each time, as with musical suites that form a cycle, the work he produced would be in a similar major key, but totally individual. The artist himself used to say “I never do anything a second time – every colour needs to be painted afresh on each occasion”. And in fact the same ingredients – bunches of lavender-coloured, white, pink and lilac blossom, a wicker basket, earthenware jug, and wooden cottage table – would give birth to a different picture every time. They might be large flamboyant paintings for a grand entrance (Lilacs in a Basket (Heroic), Lilacs in Wickerwork); or modest, cottagey and lyrical compositions with bouquets in glass jars and wooden buckets (Window, Lilacs in a Bucket on the Floor); or spangled lilac blossom on the living bough that seems to burst through a wide-open window (Lilac Bush, Lilac in a Window). In Konchalovsky’s painting it is hard to accord precedence to any one iconographic line as opposed to another. It is beyond doubt, though, that the tradition of grand still life compositions involving many objects, to which Still Life with Lilacs, Blue Cup and Two Books offered here at auction belongs, became for the artist the embodiment in Soviet painting of the line of succession in world art that springs from the flower paintings of the 17th-century Dutch Old Masters.
Lilacs, as his constant if not his main subject, entered Konchalovsky’s life in 1932 when he acquired the dacha at Bugry to which his family would repair every year from Moscow for the summer months. At the front of the house there were established flowerbeds and all manner of lilac bushes growing. Konchalovsky took to gardening with an enthusiasm for breeding new varieties of lilac and from then on painting their blooms became one of his favourite occupations. Konchalovsky found that in “flowers there is everything that exists in nature, only in more refined and complex forms, and you should get to know every flower – especially with lilac or a bunch of wild flowers – like some thicket in the woods, till you pick up the logic of its structure and discover the laws behind configurations that appear at first to be accidental...” Thanks to a long time pursuing this kind of exercise, Konchalovsky achieved an astonishingly lifelike quality in the bouquets he painted. He painted flowers so that they seemed to preserve not only their freshness of colour, but the very scent they have in nature.
The appearance on the art market of Still Life with Lilacs, Blue Cup and Two Books is an exceptional event, for this is not simply the majestic two-metre canvas that for many years adorned one of the foremost Soviet interiors in that tall building on Kalanchovskaya Square, the famous Hotel Leningradskaya. It is also of showpiece quality and a magnificent example of the art of the 20th century’s leading Russian classic painter.
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.