Sotheby's hopes to smash Russian art at auction record with $60 million sale of Malevich painting in New York on November 3rd

October 11th, 2008

Suprematist Composition by Malevich
Suprematist Composition (1916) by Kazimir Malevich, via Art Daily

Despite the ongoing deterioration of global stock markets, including, at the time of this article, a 61% decline in the Russian Stock Market since May, Sotheby’s is confident that it will break the $20.9 million record set for  the sale of Russian art at auction by Kandinsky set in 1990.  ‘Suprematist Composition,’ composed by Kazimir Malevich in 1916, is widely considered a masterpiece of early 20th century avant garde art–Sotheby’s calls it “one of the greatest modern paintings ever offered for sale.” It is expected to fetch $60 million dollars when it goes on sale at the Impressionist and Modern Art auction on November 3rd.  The piece goes on sale after Malevich’s heirs recouped it from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

Sotheby’s optimism in the face of recent subpar auction performances [AO] is due to what they say is the unprecedented quality of the work and the historical importance of the artist, who has recently risen in profile to the ranks shared by Picasso, Pollock, Chagall and other marquee 20th century artists.  Sotheby’s is also counting on the interest of Russia’s billionaire art collectors, who have had a major impact on art markets this decade, paying record prices and avidly acquiring trophy works by the likes of Damien Hirst as well as Russian artists. The results of Sotheby’s prediction remains to be seen and some of the factors that will affect the outcome certainly have developed for the worse, as Bloomberg estimates that Russia’s billionaires have lost close to $230 billion of their net worth in the recent Russian stock market’s decline.

Sotheby’s: Suprematist Composition (1916), Lot #6, Impressionist and Modern Art Fall Sale [Sotheby’s]
“Suprematism” by Kazimir Malevich, plus selection of artwork
[Artchive]
Sotheby’s expect Malevich to smash Russian record
[Reuters]
Heirs to Auction Russian Painter’s Work
[New York Times]
Malevich Painting May Fetch More Than $60 Million
[Bloomberg]
Restituted Malevich to Be Sold at Sotheby’s
[ArtInfo]
Sotheby’s To Auction One of the Greatest Modern Paintings Ever Offered for Sale
[ArtDaily]
Sotheby’s predicts Russian Malevich masterpiece to fetch a record-smashing £33million
[Daily Mail]
Abramovich, Deripaska, Oligarchs Lose $230 Billion [Bloomberg]

a history of the current painting and how it came to auction after the jump…

Suprematist Composition by Malevich
Suprematist Composition (1916) by Kazimir Malevich, via The Daily Mail

The composition, along with dozens of other works, was left in Berlin when Stalin abruptly banned overseas travel for Soviet citizens in 1927, just as Malevich was preparing an exhibition. Malevich was forced to return to the Soviet Union.  He was unable to bring the works back to the USSR after the exhibition wrapped up, as they were considered by the government to be bourgeois and unrepresentative of the Soviet common man, and therefore subversive. It was subsequently sold to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which was its home for more than 50 years. Relatives of Malevich, encouraged by German art critic Clemens Toussaint, began to sue for ownership of the paintings left behind in Germany, all of which were seminal Suprematist pieces. They won several, one of which they sold in 2000 for $17.9 million, a record for the artist.

Supremus 58 by Malevich
Supremus 58 (1916) by Malevich, via Artchive

Suprematism by Malevich
Suprematism (1916) by Malevich, via Artchive

Suprematist Composition (1916) is a seminal  painting in that it was among the first to go a step beyond the abstraction that was already a prominent feature of Cubism and Futurism, by removing the (albeit distorted) vestiges of forms from nature and everyday reality and replacing them with pure geometric shapes and color. With this radical departure from artistic convention, Malevich hoped to create a new form of art that would appeal to an aesthetic beyond West and East. His work has proven exceptionally influential, inspiring Mark Rothko, Josef Albers, Ellsworth Kelly and Donald Judd and a cadre of other artists who helped give Malevich’s aesthetic a more pervasive presence in the artistic world.

Suprematism (Self Portrait) by Malevich
Suprematism (Self Portrait) by Malevich, via Artchive

Suprematist by Malevich
Suprematist (1917) by Malevich, via Artchive

Supremus 56 by Malevich
Supremus 56 by Malevich, via Artchive

Suprematist Composition, White on White by Malevich
Suprematist Composition, White on White by Malevich, via Artchive

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