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Blind Man's Bluff
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Blind Man's Bluff
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About the item

The genre of history painting constitutes an important part of Konstantin Makovsky's oeuvre. It was in the 1890s and 1900s that the artist turned to the genre most frequently, executing a series of opulent renderings of 'colourful Muscovite Rus'. The reigns of Alexander III and his son Nicholas II saw the blossoming of Russian Revival in the arts which arose within the context of European historicism. Regarded as the most distinct period of national history, pre-Petrine Russia became the focus of the movement. The fin de siècle was also a period of increased interest in costume parties, especially popular with the aristocrats of St Petersburg who would dress up in boyar caftans, kokoshniks and leather boots once owned by their ancestors (fig.1). During this period Makovsky executed a group of works referencing widely-known historical figures and specific events, but equally he revelled in portraying the rituals of ancient Rus' and its poetic nature. Among Makovskys literary sources at the time was Alexei Tolstoys Prince Serebrenni. Set in 16th century Russia, it inspired a number of paintings including The Kissing Rite (fig.2). Makovsky often represented the old Russia not through its important historical events but rather through intimate scenes set in chambers and terems which brought to focus the old customs and traditions of the Russian people. Such works included A Boyar Wedding Feast (fig.3), Before the Wedding (fig.4) and the almost identical The Russian Bride's Attire (1887, The Legion of Honour, San Francisco), Sprinkling the Hops (1901, collection of Dr. Sukarno, President of the Republic of Indonesia) and Christmas Eve Fortune Telling (1905, Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism, St Petersburg). Part of the same cycle of works, Blind Mans Bluff depicts an old childrens game often played in Russian izbas and terems. Makovsky fills the scene with a cast of lavishly dressed characters as well as a still life of silverware, old furniture, rugs, and richly decorated walls. The wealth of the setting was no doubt inspired by the artists vast art collection.\nA passionate collector, Makovsky was particularly drawn to everyday objects, jewellery and costumes which he used as props in his historical paintings. In her memoirs, Makovskys daughter Elena recalls 'a large, antique glass and ebony cabinet [] bursting with carefully arranged boyar garments and accessories: from brocades and patterned sarafans to pearl-encrusted cuffs and kokoshniks. Interwoven with silver, the luxurious blue-and-rose-gold silk shone wonderfully and the mantelpiece was adorned with old crockery. What a delightful sight it was! Silver kovshs, nautilus goblets, charkas, bratinas, washbasins and fans formed a medley of the boyar era objects most admired by father'. According to Elena, Makovsky was a true devotee and connoisseur of Russian antiques, and he never skimped on such purchases. Objects from his collection lent his boyar scenes not only a sense of opulence but also a degree of realism. Makovskys cast of characters were often inspired by the facial features of his family members and friends. The children depicted in Blind Mans Bluff, for example, bear a striking resemblance to his children from his third marriage to Maria Matavtina.\nIn 1900 Blind Mans Bluff was exhibited at the Imperial Academy of Arts, and the following year at the St Petersburg Society of Artists. It was reproduced in the catalogue of the latter as one of Makovskys chief exhibits (fig.6), also appearing in the 1 March 1900 issue of the newspaper Novoe vremya.\nIn 1915, Blind Mans Bluff was published as an illustration to Makovsky's obituary in Niva which lamented his tragic and unexpected death (fig.7). The author of the piece wrote the following: 'Makovsky demonstrated a deep interest in 'boyar scenes', choosing to depict the colourful and elegant aspects of the old Russian way of life. He took great pleasure in portraying boyars and boyarinas, tsars and tsarinas clad in opulent period costumes and surrounded by sable fur, satin and jewellery. He idealised the beautiful past of ancient Rus' and the old way of life, lovingly setting his historical events in the context of lavish boyar costumes and lush domestic interiors.' Blind Mans Bluff is a testament to Makovskys dedication to and passion for the era of Russian boyars.\nWe would like to thank Dr Elena Nesterova for providing this catalogue note.\n \n \nSigned in Latin t.r.
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medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Makovsky, K.E.

condition

Structural Condition The canvas has been lined and is securely attached to a keyed wooden stretcher. There is an overall pattern of raised and visually distracting lines of craquelure with associated areas of deformation, fragile and lifting paint and minor paint losses. The deformations include an inverted L-shaped repaired tear above the right part of the lower edge and an area above the seated elderly woman towards the centre of the right edge. The lining canvas has also caused irrevocable weave interference to the original paint layer. The original canvas needs to be relined which would ensure a more even and secure structural support and long term structural stability. Paint Surface The paint surface has a relatively even varnish layer. Inspection under ultraviolet light shows a discoloured and opaque varnish layer which prevents the ultraviolet light from fully penetrating. Inspection under ultraviolet light also shows scattered retouchings, including: 1) several large retouchings below the right part of the upper edge and further retouchings close to the signature in the upper right corner, 2) a horizontal area of retouching within the upper centre of the composition, 3) retouchings corresponding to the areas of deformation mentioned above, 4) two vertical lines of retouching within the window in the upper right quadrant and some further retouchings above and around the three figures towards the centre of the right edge, 5) several retouchings on and close to the upper part of the right edge, and 6) a few small retouchings within the white fabric of the seated figure in the lower right. Other scattered retouchings are also visible. Many of these retouchings appear crude and excessive. Due to the opaque varnish layers it is not possible to ascertain the extent of any previous restoration work. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in relatively good condition and should respond very well to relining, cleaning, restoration and revarnishing. The painting was examined in its frame for the purposes of this report. "This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

dimensions

180 by 235.5cm, 70 3/4 by 92 3/4 in.

exhibition

St Petersburg, Imperial Academy of Arts, 1900 St Petersburg, Sankt-Peterburgskoe obshchestvo khudozhnikov: Vtoraya narodnaya vystavka kartin v Sankt-Peterburge, 1901, no.42 Moscow, Sankt-Peterburgskoe obshchestvo khudozhnikov: IX vystavka v Moskve, 1901, no.127

literature

Novoe vremya, 1 March 1900, illustrated Exhibition catalogue Katalog vtoroy narodnoy vystavki kartin v Sankt-Peterburge, St Petersburg Society of Artists, 1901, illustrated; p.7, no.42 listed as Zhmurki Exhibition catalogue Sankt-Peterburgskoe obshchestvo khudozhnikov: Katalog IX vystavki v Moskve, St Petersburg Society of Artists, 1901, p.10, no.127 listed as Zhmurki Niva, no.2, 1911, p.33 visible in a photograph of the artist's St Petersburg studio Niva, no.42, 1915, p.768 illustrated

provenance

Sotheby's New York, 19th Century European Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, 20 February 1992, lot 84

signedDate

Signed in Latin t.r.

artist_range_end

1915

artist_range_start

1839

consignmentDesignation

Property from a Private European Collection

creator_nationality_dates

1839-1915


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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