Mikhail Vasilievich Nesterov (Russian, 1862-1942) Icon of the Saviour Not-Made-By-Hands, 1910-1920

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Lot 24
Mikhail Vasilievich Nesterov
(Russian, 1862-1942)
Icon of the Saviour Not-Made-By-Hands, 1910-1920

£ 80,000 - 100,000
US$ 100,000 - 130,000
Mikhail Vasilievich Nesterov (Russian, 1862-1942)
Icon of the Saviour Not-Made-By-Hands, 1910-1920
signed in Cyrillic (lower right)
oil on wooden board, with sterling silver and polychrome enamel frame
26.5 x 25.5cm (10 7/16 x 10 1/16in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Acquired by a noble European family in Russia between 1960-1970
    Thence by descent

    Mikhail Vasilievich Nesterov (1862-1942) is among the most prominent figures of Russian art at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The works he exhibited towards the end of the 1880s portrayed a new world of 'brides of Christ', holy hermits and Old Believer monasteries. Nesterov's paintings reflected the artist's vision of harmony and beauty in alignment with the ethical precepts of Orthodoxy. Nesterov himself defined the essence of his works, characterising it as "poetic realism" (M.V. Nesterov, Pisma. Izbrannoye., Leningrad, 'Iskusstvo', 1988, p. 192). His paintings exhibit a combination of the search for truth and love for the real world, a seam prevalent in the Russian cultural epoch of Fedor Dostoyevski and Lev Tolstoy, combined with the abstract symbolism of the modern era.

    Nesterov came from the patriarchal Ural merchant class and was heavily influenced by the everyday life of the Russian provinces: the ceremonial church services and the pastoral nature of the Russian land with her river valleys and forested hills. He received his artistic education at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture (1877-1881, 1884-1886), where he was taught by the renowned realist artists Vasiliy Perov, Aleksey Savrasov and Illarion Pryanishnikov. In addition, he studied at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg (1881-1884) supervised by Pavel Chistyakov. In 1898 Nesterov was recognised as an academician for his painting The Great Taking of the Veil (Russian Museum, St. Petersburg), and in 1910 he became a full member of the Imperial Academy of Arts. Until the early 1900s he was a member and exhibitor of the famous associations, the "Peredvizhniki" (the Wanderers) (1889-1901) and the "World of Art" (1899-1901). In Soviet times, continuing his old themes, Nesterov actively engaged in portrait painting, becoming the first to be awarded the Soviet artist 'Stalin prize' of the 1st degree (1941).

    Before the October revolution in 1917, Nesterov was engaged in a lot of work for the Church. He created extensive monumental cycles in Kiev (the Vladimirskiy Cathedral), Abastuman (the Church of the Faithful Aleksander Nevsky) and in Moscow (the Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God of the Martha and Mary Convent), and also completed commissions for a number of smaller orders. The painter, like some of his contemporaries, dreamt of bestowing on ecclesiastical art the social and aesthetic significance which it had once possessed a long time ago in Russia and in Eastern Europe.

    In 1907, Elizaveta Fedorovna, sister of the Empress Alexandra Fedorovna (before she was killed by the Bolsheviks and canonised by the Orthodox Church), approached Nesterov with a proposal to decorate the church at the Convent of Mercy she was establishing in Moscow, which was to be named the Martha and Mary Convent. The artist agreed and subsequently created six large frescoes, eleven compositions for the iconostas - including the Royal Doors - the painting of the dome, as well as the designs for the mosaics on the façade.

    The offered lot, Icon of the Saviour Not-Made-By-Hands, was created according to the sketch for the mosaic of the same name (Cf P. Yu. Klimov, Mikhail Vasilevich Nesterov, 'Catalogue Raisonne: Paintings and graphics', Volume 1, Moscow, 'Symvoli', 2019, p. 506 (cat. no. 1107)). In the mosaics of the façade, as in the depictions on the iconostas of the Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God of the Martha and Mary Convent, the artist came close to an understanding of the beauty of the ancient Russian icon with its melodious flowing lines and sonorous, but subtly harmonised, colourful notes. The complex mosaics, icons and wall paintings of the Martha and Mary Convent became his highest achievement in the arena of monumental art, as recognised by both the artist himself and by scholars. In the face of the Saviour, Nesterov combines a severity of style with a restrained expression, replete with tragedy.

    Nesterov made many smaller compositions after his more renowned church works. Some were commissions and some were made to be sold, but a number were made as gifts to his closer friends. In the latter case, as a rule, the front or verso of the work bore a dedication from the artist. The offered lot can be dated to the 1910-1920s, a period when the artist painted similar icons in oils on wooden bases. The Art Nouveau frame which may very well have been created for this work suggests a dating for the work to the 1910s, up to and including 1917. After the October Revolution, amid conditions of economic devastation, the making of such frames would have been nigh on impossible. The signature on the painting fully corresponds to known examples of the artist's hand.

    We are grateful to Dr Pavel Klimov, author of the catalogue raisonné on Nesterov, for this catalogue note.
Contacts
Mikhail Vasilievich Nesterov (Russian, 1862-1942) Icon of the Saviour Not-Made-By-Hands, 1910-1920
Mikhail Vasilievich Nesterov (Russian, 1862-1942) Icon of the Saviour Not-Made-By-Hands, 1910-1920
Mikhail Vasilievich Nesterov (Russian, 1862-1942) Icon of the Saviour Not-Made-By-Hands, 1910-1920
Mikhail Vasilievich Nesterov (Russian, 1862-1942) Icon of the Saviour Not-Made-By-Hands, 1910-1920
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