A HIGHLIGHT of the autumn Russian art series in London was Sotheby's sell-out 127-lot sale of works from the family of Alexander Benois (1870-1960), a name synonymous with the Ballet Russes.
The collection, offered on November 29, comprising ballet, opera
set and costume designs, watercolour views of Russia, France and
Italy, book illustrations, sketchbooks, and family portraits
represented the largest collection of works by Benois to be offered
for sale in recent history.
Every lot sold for a double-estimate total just shy of
In creating his renowned sets, Benois drew inspiration from
foreign cultures and the decorative arts as illustrated by the
top-selling lot of the sale, the 2ft 1in x 3ft 7in (63 x 1.09m)
1914 watercolour and pencil set design for the second act of Igor
Stravinsky's Le Rossignol, which depicts the Emperor's
Benois later wrote: "The sea and landscape of the first act, the
throne-room and the golden bedroom in the Emperor's palace, gave me
an opportunity to express all my infatuation with Chinese art. The
final result was a chinoiserie de ma façon, far from
accurate by pedantic standards but undoubtedly appropriate to
Stravinsky's music. On the whole I consider Le Rossignol
one of my most successful productions."
Buyers agreed as the set design sold for £195,000, almost five
times its top estimate of £50,000, and established a new auction
record for a set design by Benois.