Important Russian portrait at auction for first time

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Portrait of Maria Zetlin (1882-1976) by Valentin Serov

Christie’s London is offering Valentin Serov’s Portrait of Maria Zetlin (1882-1976) (estimate: £1,500,000-2,500,000) in its auction of Important Russian Art on 24 November. Sold to benefit the Ramat Gan Museums in Israel, the portrait depicts Maria Zetlin, the doyenne of Russian émigré life in Paris, and appears on the market for the first time in history.

Moshe Abramowitz, vice mayor of the city of Ramat Gan and Meir Aharonson, chief curator and artistic director said: ‘Over fifty years ago, Ramat Gan Municipality promised the Zetlin family that the Collection would be well-presented so that it would occupy its rightful place in the city’s cultural life. In order to fulfil this promise, the Municipality wishes to upgrade the exhibition space and improve its visibility and accessibility to a wider audience.

“Ramat Gan has learned from leading museums in the world that the results of a successful sale can significantly benefit and safeguard the future of museums. The Zetlin Collection is solid and important; selling one work in order to benefit the collection as a whole is the correct thing to do within the museum sphere. The proceeds of the sale will be used to upgrade the presentation of the collection, enlarge the exhibition space, and benefit the cultural and artistic future of the city of Ramat Gan.’

Alexis de Tiesenhausen, international head of the Russian Art department, added: ‘Portrait of Maria Zetlin (1882-1976) is, without doubt, the most exquisite Serov that I have handled during my career at Christie’s. The devastating elegance and poise of the sitter, captured in Serov’s unique silvery tones, epitomises the mastery of Russia’s preeminent portraitist.

“Painted in 1910 in Biarritz, this commission was undertaken at the apex of Serov’s career, one year before his untimely death. In the same year Serov completed other major works, including iconic portraits of Ivan Morozov and Ida Rubenstein held in The State Tretyakov Gallery and The State Russian Museum respectively. Portrait of Maria Zetlin (1882-1976) was shown in landmark Russian Art exhibitions in Malmö (1914), Brussels (1928), London (1935) and Prague (1935); and, at Serov’s request, represented the artist’s oeuvre at the 1911 international art exhibition in Rome where it was hailed a portrait of ‘unique tonal beauty’.

“Portrait of Maria Zetlin (1882-1976) has never before appeared at auction and in a market where the appearance of true masterpieces is increasingly rare, I am thrilled to be presenting such an exceptional portrait this November.’