Life & Culture10 Russian Art, Culture and Luxury Highlights, from Fabergé to Pussy Riot

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Painting

Auction house Christie’s ties to Russia stretch back to the 18th century, when James Christie famously negotiated the sale of Sir Robert Walpole’s collection to Empress Catherine the Great. In 1934 Christie’s pioneered the Fabergé market with the first dedicated sale at its King Street premises, and Russian art has been a regular feature in Christie’s auction rooms ever since.

In 1969 the first dedicated Russian Art department was established in Geneva, and landmark sales of Fabergé eggs and Soviet porcelain swiftly followed. Christie’s has a long pedigree in handling the most prestigious private collections of Russian Works of Art in the field: Clore, Forbes, Greenfield, Kazan, Provatoroff, and more recently Somov, HRH The Princess Margaret and King George I of the Hellenes.

Christie’s holds the record for the highest price ever paid for a Russian painting at public auction — Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition, which sold for $85,812,500 in 2018 — and the most expensive Russian work of art in the category — the Rothschild Fabergé Egg, which realised £8,980,500 in 2007.

Christie’s holds over 50 international records for Russian paintings, and has set auction records for some of the biggest names in Russian art history

Suprematist_Composition_-_Kazimir_Malevich
Kazimir_Malevich – Suprematist Composition, 1916

Kazimir Malevich’s iconic Suprematist Composition, painted in 1916, is the most important work from the artist’s revolutionary ‘Suprematist’ series ever to appear at auction. In the early 20th century audiences were shocked by Malevich’s abstract, geometrical compositions, which marked territory entirely uncharted by any previous artist.

More than 100 years later, this assemblage of simple, coloured forms against a white background, a work so dynamic that the shapes hover as if caught in motion, captured the attention of the international art market once more.

When the hammer came down on Suprematist Composition at a staggering $85,812,500, it set a new world auction record for a Russian painting. Later that year, Christie’s London sold Malevich’s Landscape (1911) for £7,883,750, establishing another world auction record for a Russian work on paper.

Architecture

Steeped in history and greatly influenced by its religious tradition, Russian architecture features vibrantly painted domes, sloped roofs, and ornate decoration. From the Byzantine designs of the 11th century, including Russia’s oldest building still in use, St. Sophia Cathedral, in Veliky Novgorod to the brutalist structures of Communism, Russian architecture typifies its turbulent history.

Saint Basil's Cathedral Moscow
Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow

Perhaps the most recognisable landmark is the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, commonly known as Saint Basil’s Cathedral, an Orthodox church in Moscow’s Red Square. Now a museum, it was built from 1555 to 1561 to commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan by Ivan the Terrible, who, legend has it, had the architect blinded so he could not build anything so beautiful again.

The cathedral has nine domes, each corresponding to a different church, and is said to be shaped like the flame of a bonfire rising into the sky. Dmitry Shvidkovsky, in his book Russian Architecture and the West, states “It is like no other Russian building. Nothing similar can be found in the entire millennium of Byzantine tradition from the fifth to the fifteenth century … a strangeness that astonishes by its unexpectedness, complexity and dazzling interleaving of the manifold details of its design.”

See also: The Other Art Fair Goes Virtual in the USA

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