Vasily Rozhdestvensky (1884-1963) Still life with a clay jug

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Lot 29*
Vasily Rozhdestvensky
Still life with a clay jug

Sold for £ 848,750 (US$ 1,171,265) inc. premium
Property from a private collection, New York
Vasily Rozhdestvensky (1884-1963)
Still life with a clay jug
signed in Cyrillic and dated '21' (lower left)
oil on canvas
83 x 66cm (32 11/16 x 26in).


  • Provenance
    Acquired by a private New York collector, late 1920s
    A gift from above to her sister in New York
    Thence by descent in the family

    In conversations about art, Robert Falk once said: "We, people, have become accustomed to and have forgotten our essential experiences. Onions, potatoes - almost every day we see these items and we know that they can be eaten. Yet we have lost the original experience: potatoes are rough, dense, heavy; onions are smooth, slippery, with a shiny, light peel. People are lazy, sleepy creatures, we don't like to cherish our sensations of life every day, we prefer to stick to the humdrum. We need to wake up, only then will art begin" (R. Falk, Conversations about Art. Letters. Memoirs on the Artist, Moscow, 1981, p. 28). The still lifes of Vasily Rozhdestvensky, Robert Falk's fellow member of the Jack of Diamonds group, also mark this «beginning of art» and allow the viewer to "wake up" and look at everyday objects through the prism of an artistic pursuit. In Rozhdestvensky's paintings, every household object, freed from its original purpose by colour above all, and then by form, appears in a new light and "comes to life". Rozhdestvensky, arguably the most romantic and delicate artist of the Jack of Diamonds, manifested his artistic genius in an ability to reveal a new, meaningful solution to the content and stylistic problems presented to the artists of his time by their generation and society. (V. Petrov, "Vasily V. Rozhdestvensky," Antikvarnoe Obozrenie, no. 1, 2005, p. 36).

    Rarely appearing at auction, Rozhdestvensky's still lifes are of great interest to collectors and art historians. Born in Tula to the family of a priest, Vasily Rozhdestvensky moved to Moscow in 1900. His teachers in the Moscow School of Art, Sculpture and Architecture were Valentin Serov, Konstantin Korovin and Abraham Arkhipov. Throughout his life, Rozhdestvensky turned to different genres - portraits, still lifes, and landscapes - and experimented with his method in each important stage. Yet, it is his iconic still lifes that incontrovertibly reveal Rozhdestvensky's remarkable sensitivity to colour and a distinctive dynamism in his compositions, as revealed by the angular shapes.

    During his studies, Rozhdestvensky became close to Petr Konchalovsky, Ilya Mashkov, Alexander Kuprin, Aristarkh Lentulov, and Robert Falk; together, in 1910, they founded the Jack of Diamonds group, the largest group of early Russian avant-garde artists. It started with a scandalous exhibition of the same name, which opened in Moscow in December 1910, when this group of young, daring and enthusiastic artists began their journey of the pursuit of the ultimate freedom of expression from academic canons. "We were then [in 1910] united by the urge to attack the old painting," recalled Konchalovsky (Konchalovsky. Khudozhestvennoe nasledie, Moscow, 1964, p. 22). Their attempt was successful; the vibrant unrestrained energy of colours, the diversity of textures, and abundance of "folklore" elements in the canvases of these "Russian Cezzanists" evolved into a manifesto for the new art which challenged the aesthetic traditions of their time. Unfortunately, military conscription prevented Rozhdestvensky from participating in all the initial activities of the Jack of Diamonds group and as a result he participated in only three of their exhibitions: the third (February – March, Moscow 1912), the fourth (April – May, St. Petersburg, 1913) and the fifth (February – March, Moscow, 1914).

    The present lot, Still life with a clay jug, was created in 1921, an important transitional period for Rozhdestvensky. "The conflict, the contradiction between the abstract truths of left [wing] art and the [artist's] natural perception of an object and the love of nature", - maintains Vladimir Petrov, - "found peace during this period of the artist's career [and] was related to his stay in Vyshnevolotsosky Uezd of the Tver Province, - first, in 1919, on a holiday, and later as the head of the branch of the Free Workshops which opened in 1920 on the basis of an art school for local children" (V. Petrov, "Vasily V. Rozhdestvensky," Antikvarnoe Obozrenie, no. 1, 2005, p. 41). However, it was not only the closeness of nature that had an important influence on the artist; in the same year, Rozhdestvensky met the niece of Vitold Byalynitsky-Birulia, Natalia, who soon became his wife. It is at this time that the palette of Rozhdestvensky's painting softens, his hues become less provincial and the vibrant colour of his paintings reaches a new organic balance.

    In the palette of the present still life, the cold range of pearl hues chosen for the background is contrasted with the warm brown of the table with the red jug. The painting is not dominated by one overall colour but instead there is harmonious interaction of colours. The rhythm of forms and objects becomes less important, while the surface of the canvas begins to fluctuate and breathe. "One of the most distinctive techniques of the artist's painting was the moulding of the "pulsating" colourful surface, as if [moulded] from melted precious smalts, which to the greatest degree reflected the highest goal of [Rozhdestvensky's] work - to create quality art." (V. Petrov, "Vasily Vasilyevich Rozhdestvensky," Antikvarnoe Obozrenie, no. 1, 2005, p. 45).
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