Bonhams has the privilege to offer two rare masterpieces at its New Bond Street gallery in London. The paintings are by realist artist Vasili Polenov (1844–1927) and are highlights of the Russian Art auction on Nov. 30.
After a public preview in New York, the works from Russia’s golden age of 19th century painting are now being exhibited in Moscow before the auction.
“Executed with technical virtuosity and breathtaking clarity, these two paintings were part of an epic series regarded by Polenov as the foremost undertaking of his career. These are unquestionably the most important works by the artist to ever come up for auction,” Yelena Harbick, the U.S. director of Russian Fine and Decorative Arts explained in a press release.
The monumental 60-piece collection was scheduled to travel across the Atlantic aboard the RMS Titanic.
Polenov produced the series titled “Life of Christ” over two decades. The monumental 60-piece collection was scheduled to travel across the Atlantic aboard the RMS Titanic to exhibit in America. A shipment delay fortunately saved the series from the disaster.
After being displayed in its entirety only once in 1909, the collection was eventually spread throughout various Russian art museums.
“We anticipate that their unparalleled artistic importance, exceptional provenance, and fascinating history will generate a considerable interest not only among Russian private collectors and institutional buyers, but from international collectors as well,” Ms. Harbick said.
The two paintings were donated by philanthropist Charles R. Crane to a North American institution where they have resided for more than 80 years.
Descriptions From Bonhams
The first of the two paintings, titled “He That Is Without Sin” (in reference to St. John, 8:7), is a version of Polenov’s earlier large-scale work with the same title that is now in the collection of the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.
The present work depicts a woman awaiting Christ’s judgment for her sin of adultery. Instead of passing judgment, Christ suggests those in the crowd “who are without sin, to throw the first stone.”
This message of humanism, forgiveness, and love is quintessential to the work of Vasili Polenov and is one that he repeatedly returned to by reworking this scene compositionally and artistically.
The second painting, titled “He Is Guilty of Death” (in reference to St. Matthew, 26:66), depicts Christ before the Great Sanhedrin, Supreme Court of Ancient Israel, after his arrest at the Garden of Gethsemane.The lonely and introspective image of Christ is in direct contrast to his hostile and aggressive surroundings, particularly the judges who ultimately will determine his fate.