Russian literature & art popular at the Bonhams Fine Books & Manuscripts auction

Fine Books and Manuscripts including Russian Literature
19 Jun 2012
New York

NEW YORK—Bonhams offered for the first time this week an auction session dedicated to the sale of Russian Literature and Works on Paper. Among the 135 lots were Imperial Russian color-plate books and maps, original Constructivist designs, memorabilia of the Ballets Russe, avant-garde children's books, samizdat publications, and high-spots in Russian literature including rare editions of Chekhov and Dostoevsky, Babel and Brodsky. This offering certainly met a hunger in the marketplace and saw spirited bidding from around the globe.

Leading the group was a chromolithographed book showing the Coat of Arms of the Imperial Russian Provinces. This first edition with plates by Ilin sold for three times the high estimate of $5,000-7,000, ultimately claiming $21,250. Another Imperial top lot was a rare account of the wedding of the first Romanov ruler, selling for $18,750 against a pre-sale estimate of $6,000-8,000. Written by Platon Petrovich Beketov, this volume is complete with all 65 engraved illustrations whereas copies ordinarily have only 63.

A first edition, presentation copy of Anton Chekhov's collection of short stories At Dusk witnessed energetic bidding ultimately claiming $16,250, against a pre-sale estimate $8,000-12,000. It is signed and affectionately inscribed by Chekhov to Pavel Svabodin, an actor in the Moscow Art Theatre where Chekhov's plays were first performed.

The top lot from the Soviet period was an extremely rare work of privately printed homoerotica: Mikhail Kuzmin's Curtained Pictures, 1920, with illustrations by Vladimir Milashevskii. Copies were available only to select collectors of erotica who purchased it directly from the author. Although the book was made in St. Petersburg (Petropolis at the time), the publishers stated Amsterdam as the place of publication to avoid legal prosecution.

Sought after works of the Mir Iskusstva (World of Art) included those by Alexandre Benois, Leon Bakst, and Ivan Bilibin; and of the Russian avant-garde by Vera Ermolaeva, Vladimir Lebedev, Alexander Rodchenko and Vladimir Mayakovsky. A diminutive and rare Yiddish children's book illustrated by El Lissitsky in 1919, entitled Grandfather's Curses, sold for $8125 against a pre-sale estimate of $5000-6000. Christina Geiger, Director of the Fine Books and Manuscripts Department, states, "We were so delighted with the enthusiasm of the Russian collectors that we plan another sale devoted to Fine Russian Books, Manuscripts, Maps and Works on Paper to be held in the next six months to a year. Consignments are now invited!"


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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