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Séraphin Soudbinine (Nijni-Novgorod, 1867 – Paris, 1944), Bust of Leonid Sobinov (1872-1934). Estimate £ 80,000-120,000. Photo Christie’s Image Ltd 2014

Le Conservatoire russe de Paris Serge Rachmaninoff vend 3 chefs-d’œuvre de ses collections pour pouvoir poursuivre sa mission d’éducation musicale dans l’esprit qui est le sien depuis sa fondation en 1923. Véritable témoin de l’âme russe à Paris et repère de la communauté russe en exil, le conservatoire eut Rachmaninoff pour recteur jusqu’à son départ définitif pour les Etats-Unis en 1934.

La sculpture monumentale de Soudbinine, artiste rare au génie polymorphe, est un véritable trésor. Il s’agit du buste en marbre de Sobinov, le plus grand ténor russe de son temps et premier directeur élu du Bolchoï. Cette oeuvre datée 1909 et réalisée à Paris à l’occasion de la première Saison russe de Diaghilev témoigne du retentissement de la scène russe à cette époque. Après avoir été marin, Soudbinine est devenu un acteur brillant aux origines du célèbre Théâtre d’art de Stanislavsky à Moscou, puis un sculpteur puissant après sa rencontre avec Rodin et enfin le plus grand céramiste de l’époque Art déco après une visite déterminante des collections d’art chinois au Metropolitan Museum de New York. Il ne s’est jamaiscomplu dans le succès et s’est toujours dépassé dans un constant renouvellement .
C’est la première fois qu’un buste en marbre de Soudbinine est offert à la vente, ses oeuvres étant d’une extrême rareté comme l’a longtemps regretté Karl Lagerfeld à l’affut de ses trésors et qui disait de lui « c’était un gars fantastique ».

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Séraphin Soudbinine (Nijni-Novgorod, 1867 – Paris, 1944), Bust of Leonid Sobinov (1872-1934). Signed, located and dated : Soudbinine, Paris 09. Marble, 65,5 x 75 cm. Executed in 1909. Estimate £ 80,000-120,000. Photo Christie’s Image Ltd 2014

PROVENANCE : Offered to the Conservatoire Rachmaninoff in the 1930s, located in the main hall leading to Serge Rachmaninoff’s office.

EXHIBITED : Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Grand Palais, Paris, April 16th– June 30th 1911, n°2025

LITERATURE : Catalogue des ouvrages de Peinture, Sculpture, Dessin, Gravure, Architecture, Arts décoratifs exposés au Grand Palais, Paul Hérissey éditeur, Evreux, 1911, p.295.
Le Ménestrel, Salon du Grand Palais, Paris, May 20th 1911.
RGALI (Russian state archives of literature and art), 1910s, f.2741, op.1, ed. kh. 3, l.21, illustrated.
Jean-Marie Lhote, Séraphin Soudbinine, Revue céramique et verre, n°77, July-August 1994, p.28.

RELATED WORKS : Edited in biscuit porcelain (that imitates marble) by the Imperial Manufactory of St Petersburg
Edited in biscuit porcelain by the Sevres Manufactory from 1916.
Edited in bronze cast by Alexis Rudier ( 14 cm)

NOTES: This is Soudbinine’s masterpiece and most important sculpture in marble.

It represents Leonid Sobinov, the most celebrated Russian tenor of his time.

Soudbinine’s major works are extremely rare on the market and this is the first large marble to come at auction for decades.

This very impressive and monumental sculpture expresses life, a strong muscular body, wriggling out of material, a raw bloc of marble. Thanks to this contrast of the finished and unfinished, the tenor looks particularly alive and we can feel the air inflating his stong chest just before singing.

Soudbinine is clearly influenced by Michelangelo’s non finito that he could admire in his two Salves in the Louvre and that Rodin adopted as his creed. The Slaves’ muscular bodies  emerge with all of there might from the marble blocs, real meteria prima. The sculptor seems to gives birth to life as a demiurge.

Soudbinine is one of the most fascinating figure in the art of his time, a real protean genius living an adventurous life leaded by his passions.

He was first a sailor on the Volga and later became an actor at the Moscow Art Theatre with his master Constantin Stanislavski who became a friend to the point where  Soudbinine’s little house became his headquarters. The company met a great success and Soudbinine became a popular actor playing big parts in Alexei Tolstoy’s drama Tsar Feodor Ioannovich and Maxim Gorky’s best known play The Lower Depths.

Le tableau de Stelletsky, Les Radeaux, est l’une des oeuvres majeures de cet artiste qui est le plus grand interprète moderne de la culture orthodoxe comme Chagall le fut pour la culture juive. Il représente des soldats russes au 16e siècle défendant leur territoire face aux invasions tataro-mongols. Il est un symbole de la détermination des russes pour la préservation de leur culture et de leur intégrité territoriale.


Dmitry Stelletsky (1875-1947), Les Radeaux, signed in Cyrillic ‘Stelletskii’ (lower centre),oil on canvas, 53 5/8 x 35¼ in. (136.2 x 89.4 cm.). Estimate £120,000 – £180,000. Photo Christie’s Image Ltd 2014

Provenance: Donated to the Conservatoire Russe de Paris Serge Rachmaninoff in the early 1930s.


The large Russian community that gathered in Paris after the 1917 revolution were inevitably compelled to recreate the strong cultural context that formed part of their DNA. With music at the heart of Russian culture, the foundation of the ‘Conservatoire russe de Paris’ in 1923, which boasted many teachers formerly of Russia’s Imperial academies, seemed an ideal way of realising this instinct. Among its founders were Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938), Alexander Glazunov (1865- 1936), Alexander Gretchaninov (1864-1956) and Serge Rachmaninoff (1873-1943). In 1932, the Conservatory became part of the recently founded Parisian Russian Musical Society, tasked with continuing the work of its St Petersburg predecessor, which had been founded in 1859 and disbanded in 1917. The new conservatory was named after its first honorary chairman, Serge Rachmaninoff, a powerful symbol of Russian music in exile. Concerts by Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989), Nathan Milstein (1904-1992), Gregor Piatigorsky (1903-1976), Alexander Borovsky (1889-1968) and many others contributed to its lustre and reputation.

The Conservatory became a symbol that the Russian community was both proud of and generous towards. Today, Count Pierre Cheremetiev, a fervent promoter of Russian musical culture, presides over it. New constraints and regulations require the Conservatory to undergo significant renovation. As such, the decision has been made to sell three masterpieces from the collection to allow the Conservatory to continue in its mission of musical education and to endure as a symbol of the Russian soul in Paris. Soudbinine’s impressive marble bust of Sobinov is a magnificent portrayal of the famous tenor by an extraordinary artist, executed at the time of the Diaghilev’s first Russian season in Paris. The large Stelletsky, Les Radeaux, is a vibrant expression of the vital determination of the Russians to preserve their culture and territorial unity, while Child with doll, full of freshness and charm, is a master pastel drawing by Zichy without parallel on the market in recent history. The Conservatory is not a museum and most of its artworks are not on view to the public; these three magnificent works will enter a new stage in their history while remaining a precious testimony to the Russian soul in either the museums or important private collections they go on to grace.

Literature: Exhibition catalogue, Exposition d’art russe, Paris, 1932, listed p. 43, no. 250.

Exhibited: Paris, Galerie ‘La Renaissance’, Exposition d’art russe, 1932, no. 250.

Notes: Stelletsky entered the St Petersburg Academy in 1896. He became fascinated with the iconographic tradition of Russia and developed the theme of Old Russia throughout his oeuvre. Stelletsky was often found in the library studying Russian history and was required to copy from early examples of native art as part of his academic training. He made several visits to cultural and historical sites and adapted the Russo-Byzantine tradition to modern pictorial evolution. Visiting monasteries, copying frescoes and icons, Stelletsky built his own style, drawing on Russian vernacular artistic form. He studied in Paris at the Académie Julian in 1904 and was represented in the Russian art section at the Salon d’Automne in 1906. In 1914 he emigrated to France where he collaborated with Diaghilev. While in Paris he was commissioned to decorate churches and he also continued with his painting. Among his most important projects were the decoration of the interior of Saint-Serge in Paris, the interior decoration for the travelling church of the Society ‘Vitiazi’, and large icons for Russian Orthodox Churches in Paris, Marseilles, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. Deeply linked to the artistic tradition of Russia, Stelletsky was also inspired by the epic poem The Tale of Igor’s Campaign, in which the Grand Prince of Kiev Igor Sviatoslavovich went into battle against his Polovtsian enemies in 1185. Stelletsky is recorded to have drawn series of illustrations to this greatest, but also most puzzling work of medieval Russian literature, in 218 verses. The present work might be an evocation of The Tale of Igor’s Campaign or an artistic vision of the 16th century Russo-Kazan wars as the expression to preserve Russian culture and territorial unity.