Table of contents:
- You often visit Moscow. What is the main purpose of your visits to Sotheby's Moscow office?
- What's the most interesting thing about your job?
- Reto is Swiss, Frances is an English aristocrat. At the same time, you both speak fluent Russian. How did you learn it?
- And why exactly Russian art?
- What's your favorite period in Russian art?
- How significant has the economic crisis affected sales?
- Speaking of demand, who buys Russian art?
- What museums in Moscow do you like?
Video: Breakfast At Sotheby's: Interview With Reto Barmettler And Lady Frances Asquith
On the eve of the summer auction of Russian art at Sotheby's, which will be held on June 7 in London, Harper's Bazaar ART met with the head of the auction of Russian paintings Reto Barmettler, 34, and Sotheby's international specialist in Russian art, Lady Frances Asquith, 32. A stately Swiss and an Englishwoman with aristocratic roots are fluent in Russian and come to Moscow several times a year - this time with the aim of presenting a three-day pre-auction exhibition of 12 works by Shishkin, Anisfeld, Weisberg, Benoit, Malyavin, Grigoriev, Goncharova and other artists. Records, aesthetics, love for Russia, the crisis and the main art trends through the eyes of specialists from the cult auction house - in an exclusive interview with Harper's Bazaar ART.
You often visit Moscow. What is the main purpose of your visits to Sotheby's Moscow office?
Frances: We come to Moscow 4-5 times a year. Twice - in December and in May - we bring the top lots of Russian trades. The rest of the time we meet with experts - there is a very strong academic community in Moscow, clients, and we also enjoy watching Moscow exhibitions.
Reto: Yes, we do have a lot of clients in Moscow, some of whom go to auctions in London. It is important for a potential buyer to see the paintings with their own eyes; moreover, within the framework of pre-auction shows, the doors of our office are open to the general public. Anyone can see first-class works, which, for the most part, are in private collections before the auction and then go to other private collections.
What's the most interesting thing about your job?
Франсес: Самое интересное - обнаруживать русское искусство далеко за пределами России, в Западной Европе и Америке: работы оседают в зарубежных коллекциях на многие годы. Большая часть таких работ можно увидеть только в каталогах советского времени, на черно-белых картинках, и никто, включая нас, не видел их в цвете.
Reto: An example of such discoveries from the upcoming June auction is the wonderful landscape by Ivan Shishkin "At the Edge of a Pine Forest" (1897), whose estimate is 500-700 thousand pounds. It was written from the same point as another famous masterpiece of the master from the collection of the Tretyakov Gallery "Rye", only twenty years later. This work was mentioned in one of the catalogs of the late 19th century and in Shishkin's letters. We also found a photograph of the artist in the background of this painting. Before joining us, the work was in one of the private collections in Western Europe.
Reto is Swiss, Frances is an English aristocrat. At the same time, you both speak fluent Russian. How did you learn it?
Reto: I learned Russian in just twelve months. He studied in Switzerland and for one year went on an exchange to St. Petersburg - to the Faculty of International Relations of St. Petersburg State University. My main goal was to learn the language - and thanks to complete immersion in the environment, I mastered it: I had Russian friends, and besides, when you like the language, it is easy to learn. And I dreamed of mastering it - history, the rich cultural heritage of Russia fascinated me - painting, literature, ballet. Spending a year in Russia is one of the best decisions in my life, really. It influenced my whole subsequent life - I wouldn't give this interview now.
Frances: I'll start in the background: my parents worked in Moscow in the 1980s and 1990s, so earlier I spent my childhood in Moscow, then we lived in Kiev for five years. So I grew up playing football in the backyard and initially my vocabulary was limited to sports terms. Later I continued my in-depth study of the language at Oxford.
Reto: I would like to add that Russian is mandatory in our position - firstly, most of our clients are Russian-speaking, and secondly, most of the literature required for work is written in Russian.
Reto and Frances against the background of Philip Malyavin's work "Walking"
And why exactly Russian art?
Frances: For me, this choice is a continuation of my nostalgic love for Russia. I also like that we are dealing with Russian art, which has been created over two and a half centuries: from portraits of the 18th century to contemporary art. We don't focus on one genre or time period.
Reto: Yes, this variety attracts me in the first place. In my opinion, Russia has the strongest school of landscape painting in the 19th century.
Frances: And one of the strongest schools of realistic painting of the 20th century.
Reto: And the Russian avant-garde! This phenomenon is best known abroad. I also love Soviet art - now they are also beginning to appreciate it abroad. Many excellent Soviet artists are not yet known in the West, this is a promising niche in the market, and we are discovering new names, including for ourselves.
Frances: Yuri Pimenov and Alexander Deineka are already very famous, and interest in artists like Georgy Nyssa is growing now.
What's your favorite period in Russian art?
Frances: It probably won't sound very fashionable, but I love landscapes from the late 18th century. Alexey Bogolyubov, Ivan Pokhitonov, Isaac Levitan created beautiful small sketches on wooden panels. Only a Russian artist can catch the mood of a rainy day, somewhere in the middle of swamps and lakes, and do it beautifully.
Reto: And I really love Bakst and Benoit's theatrical sets. Russian artists have had a huge impact on France and other European countries. Unofficial art of the post-war period is another area of my interest. The early Weisberg of the 50s and 60s is beautiful. The seventies for me are Komar and Melamid, whose work is also on sale this season. Late 80s - Leonid Platov. There are so many amazing artists in Russia that it's hard for me to stop.
Do not need! Let's talk about other artists presented at the exhibition - Boris Anisfeld and Filipe Malyavin
Frances: Anisfeld's work "Sadko, the Underwater Kingdom" is one of my favorites at this auction. It was in a private English collection, which is quite a rarity for a masterpiece of this level. It is noteworthy that this is the work of the early, pre-American period of the artist's work - it was written in 1911 year.
Reto: Yes, usually Anisfeld who goes to auctions dates from the period after the artist's emigration to the States. In addition, this is a sketch for Diaghilev's production, especially for Sadko - what could be more Russian? For the first time this work, depicting the underwater wedding of Sadko and the sea princess, was presented at the exhibition of the World of Art association in 1912 in St. Petersburg, and was printed on postcards. From an aesthetic point of view, the work is beautiful and its provenance is good. A similar version of this sketch is in the collection of the Moscow Bakhrushin Theater Museum. I am sure that it will be sold much more expensive than a modest estimate (25,000 - 35,000 pounds). She has won over all our experts and clients, including those who are calm about theatrical sketches. She's just very pretty.
Frances: We have a joke at Sotheby's: for a work to sell well, it must be red. This is applicable to Malyavin: his cheerful, multicolored, positive works, the image of both romantic and brutal Russia are popular with the public.
Reto: "The Party", which we brought to Moscow, is one of three works by Malyavin presented at the June auction. These traditional, idealized, nostalgic images from peasant life - like those of Boris Kustodiev, Abram Arkhipov, Malyavin - are very popular.
How significant has the economic crisis affected sales?
Frances: Of course, our trading is more modest now than, say, five years ago. Sales have dropped, but this is a very interesting challenge for us. We must select the best exhibits, the best artists - any high-quality auction will go off with a bang, no matter how many works are presented there - 30 or 300.
Reto: Top lots are always valuable. Last year, we collected record sums for the works of Zinaida Serebryakova and Abram Arkhipov - this demonstrates a permanent interest in absolute masterpieces. At the same time, customers are now interested in the middle price segment - from 50 to 200-300 thousand pounds. We have responded to this demand - and that is why our trades now look different than five years ago.
Frances: Now, for example, Vladimir Veisberg is very popular - people purposefully seek and acquire his works. We monitor trends and adjust to demand.
Reto and Frances against the background of Boris Anisfeld's work "Sadko, the Underwater Kingdom"
Speaking of demand, who buys Russian art?
Reto: Mostly Russians. Or people who have some kind of ties with Russia or the former Soviet Union.
Frances: Yes, but actually, a person can just fall in love with a job, regardless of their background. Therefore, I am always happy to see European and English collectors buying Russian art of the 19th century - there were quite a few such cases at the last three auctions. And American collectors are mainly interested in the mid-20th century and modern objects.
Reto: Oftentimes, buying art is a totally emotional choice. There are times when foreigners see the work of a Russian artist and say "Oh my God, I have no idea who the author is, but I am delighted!" And for Russian clients this is in many ways the acquisition of a native heritage: to return a part of Russian history from abroad is valuable for many.
What museums in Moscow do you like?
Frances: Last visit, we went to Serov's exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery: it's nice to see paintings that were sold at Sotheby's within the walls of a large museum. In the case of Serov's retrospective, it was "Portrait of Praskovya Mamontova" - a stunning portrait of the daughter of the publisher Anatoly Mamontov in a red dress, which was bought from us by a private collector in 2012.
Reto: I also really love the Tretyakov Gallery: in recent years they have organized many blockbuster exhibitions - Serov, Goncharov.
Everyone was talking about Serov - with a grain of irony we can say that this is no longer even fashionable
Reto: Exactly. This time I really want to get to the Geliy Korzhev exhibition. This is an artist who has not previously been on sale at Sotheby's, although it is an iconic name from the 60s. Speaking of museums, I really want to travel to other cities: in the Russian regional museums there is a lot of amazing Russian art that was scattered throughout the country after the revolution. I was in Siberia a couple of years ago. Remained … all of Russia! You just need to allocate time for this.
On Frances: top, skirt, shoes, all Rochas (Rehabshop)
MUAH: Sadovko Lelia and Sofia Sverchkova (Fen Dry Bar)
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