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The Russian Avant-Garde
23 exceptionally rare revolutionary posters and works of art, from Russians and émigrés!

100 years ago, Marc Chagall was appointed Fine Arts Commissioner for the Vitebsk region of Russia, where he was from. In the midst of the Bolshevik Revolution, Chagall built a revolutionary arts school in the city, open to everyone free of charge, with no age restrictions. El Lissitsky, an architect, and Kazimir Malevich, founder of Suprematism, joined Chagall at the school. Between 1918 and 1922, their combined efforts cross-pollinated and influenced all three artists’ future careers – as well as the future of the art world as a whole. An exhibition on this extremely fertile period just concluded at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and has relocated to the Jewish Museum of New York City.

71. Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge. ca. 1950.
71. Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge. ca. 1950.
Artist: El Lissitzky (1890-1941)
23 1/4 x 19 in./59 x 48 cm
Est: $3,500-$4,000.

One of the greatest and most influential propaganda posters of all time, Lissitzky’s “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge” was first printed while Lissitzky was leading the People’s Art School, in 1919, as a direct and quite pointed Constructivist image of great dynamism. It was reprinted several times, and the quality of the paper used identifies this as more recent than 1919, but older than the 1966 print currently part of the Russian Avant-Gardes exhibition at the Pompidou and at New York’s Jewish Museum. “This poster is one of the rare examples of early agitprop that makes use of abstraction. The forms that come into contact with the words strategically deployed around the composition (“wedge,” “red,” “beat,” “white”) have a symbolic message easily understood by all contemporaries… In its use of interacting geometric elements, the image echoes a military tactical map” (Russian Avant-Garde, p. 96).

70. Victory over the Sun: Anxious People. 1923.
70. Victory over the Sun: Anxious People. 1923.
Artist: El Lissitzky (1890-1941)
17 7/8 x 21 in./45.5 x 53.3 cm
Est: $17,000-$20,000.

Following a very successful 1923 solo exhibition in Hanover, Lissitsky was commissioned for a portfolio of color lithographs as a New Year’s gift for the Kestner-Gesellschaft Society. He decided to create a series on the theme of puppets from a mechanical theater for which he already had several watercolors he had brought from Russia. These were drawn from an “electromechanical peep-show” from a futurist opera called “Victory over the Sun,” first performed in St. Petersburg in 1913 (Malevich had painted the scenery) but most likely seen by Lissitsky in Vitebsk in 1920. This print was one of 10 in the portfolio, and the portfolio was printed in a limited edition of 75. (One is in the collections of the Tate Modern.) Signed by the artist in pencil.

77. Thirty Days. 1929.
77. Thirty Days. 1929.
Artist: Anonymous
13 3/8 x 20 1/4 in./34 x 51.5 cm
Est: $4,000-$5,000.

Guy de Maupassant’s penetrating eyes emerge from the bands and blocks of Cyrillic in the Stenberg Brothers’ fascinating work for Thirty Days, a literary journal. It’s apparently a consolidated advertisement for the journal and its associated publications: 24 volumes of De Maupassant’s short stories, translated; 8 books from their library of modern writers: a “Who’s Who” of both Proletariat and Dissident writers of the 1920s (Volnov, Gladkov, Kataev, Libedinsky, Novikov-Priboy, and Olesha); the “Poetry of Nowadays,” plus 4 films written by Neverov. It was 14 rubles for a year’s subscription, and we wish we could order it now.

74. Yury Annenkov (1889-1974)
74. Bal des Deux Dianes. 1926.
Artist: Yury Annenkov (1889-1974)
10 1/2 x 15 1/8 in./26.6 x 38.5 cm
Est: $4,000-$5,000.

This is the only copy known of this poster by Annenkov for the “Bal des Deux Dianes,” which took place on March 19, 1926, in support of Russian émigrés much like the Bal Banal of two years prior. This brilliantly conceived photomontage includes photos of the Ile de la Cité, Paris; a 1920s biplane; the ruins of the Acropolis; a statue of Diana and a stag; and a 1920s speedster that looks exactly like the Monopoly gameboard piece. Punctuating the composition is a red silhouette of a female tennis player, smacking a ball beyond Notre Dame. It’s an inspired composition, and, as far as we know, one of a kind.

75. Development of Transport. 1929.
75. Development of Transport. 1929.
Artist: Gustav G. Klutsis (1895-1944)
20 x 28 3/4 in./50.6 x 73 cm
Est: $12,000-$15,000.

The First Five-Year Plan of Russia was a list of economic goals decreed by Joseph Stalin to strengthen the USSR’s economy between 1928 and 1932, making the nation both militarily and industrially self-sufficient. The fine photomontage locomotives used in this Klutsis design focus on the “Development of Transport – One of the Most Serious Tasks in Fulfilling the Five-Year Plan.” Not only are the actual numbers of first-year achievements listed on the poster, but also projections for the following year in the areas of capital investment, basic funding and railroad freight turnover. One of the members of the Russian Constructivist movement, Latvia-born Klutsis joined the Soviet avant-garde in the early years of the Bolshevik regime. He “continued to produce posters well into the Stalinist period, using photography and montage, and also maintaining many of the constructivist design principles. Sometimes . . . he took the photograph himself, using documentary photographs which he montaged, or photographs with an angled view . . . Klutsis usually succeeds in avoiding the potentially idealized, sentimental or utopian nature of this gaze as it tended to be used in the realism of the 30s, by introducing an element of confrontation . . . or shock, which depends essentially upon montage” (Avant-Garde, p. 56). Like many of his colleagues, he was betrayed by the system, imprisoned in 1938 and eventually died in a forced-labor camp. Rare!

220. Die Zauberflote/Metropolitan Opera. 1966.
220. Die Zauberflote/Metropolitan Opera. 1966.
Artist: Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
25 7/8 x 39 3/8 in./65.7 x 100 cm
Est: $2,000-$2,500.

Marc Chagall’s rapturous poster for the Met’s 1967 production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” is the final note on Chagall’s top-to-tail visual rendering, having created the sets and the costumes as well. The poster borrows a detail from “The Triumph of Music,” one of two large murals that flank the entrance to Lincoln Center. A native of Vitebsk, Russia, Chagall arrived in Paris in 1910 and soon made a name for himself in art circles with his surreal, poetic dreamvisions. The “welter of color” Chagall splashed onto the Met’s stages received mixed reviews, but his visual interpretation of Mozart’s final, joyous opera influenced the Met’s stagings through the 1981-82 season.

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