Antique Russian Carved Coconut Tankard with Imperial Portraits

… gilded interior. Features the profiles of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and Elizabeth

Russian, 19 th Century

Height: 6-1/4 inches

$18,000

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Tags: coconut Russian Antique

Antique Russian Cloisonné Enamel Kovsh

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Antique Russian gilded silver and cloisonné enamel kovsh, in shades of blue and white. The interior of the kovsh is decorated with the double-headed Imperial eagle, a symbol of the Romanov dynasty. The body of the vessel is finished with a crown-like finial.

Moscow, ca. 1890
Length:  3-5/8 inches; height: 2-3/8 inches

$14,000

Russian Antique Cloisonné Enamel Kovsh, interiorAntique Russian Cloisonné Enamel Kovsh, mark

Russian Antique 11th Artel Enamel Kovsh

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Gilded silver and shaded and cloisonné enamel kovsh with geometric and floral motifs on a blue ground. A kovsh is a traditional Russian drinking cup, originally carved out of wood in the form of a duck. In this decorative kovsh, the bird-like form is clearly evident.

By the 11th Artel, Moscow, ca. 1910
Length: 4-1/8 inches; height: 2 inches

$18,500

Russian Antique 11th Artel Enamel Kovsh

Russian Antique Decorative Arts and Jewelry

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The most noted Russian jeweler from the late 19th century to 1917, the year of the Revolution, was Carl Fabergé. He produced some of the world’s finest enamel work, featured on many different types of items, ranging from clocks to frames to jewelry.  Works of art included sculpture such as hardstone flower studies and miniature animals, and household items such as bellpushes, often made for the Tsar and other wealthy Russian families. Original Fabergé works of art have become some of the most coveted antique items on the market.  (More to come.)

Antiques: Russian Treasures

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Source: The New York Times, December 19, 2003
By Wendy Moonan.

Excerpted from The New York Times, December 19, 2003. Page E41.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

Russian Treasures
The 150-year-old company À la Vieille Russie has greatly expanded its gallery at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street. “We wanted to have more space to do exhibitions,” said Mark Schaffer, an owner. The first show, “St. Petersburg and Imperial Style,” includes antique Russian jewelry, Russian furniture, large Russian paintings, Imperial porcelain and enamel-monogrammed glasses.

A Fabergé silver caviar dish in the form of a salmon and a Fabergé cut-glass-and-silver punch bowl would look good atop the mahogany ladies’ writing table inlaid with marquetry foliage. Above it you could hang the portrait of Czar Nicholas II by Nikolai G. Shilder, which Mr. Schaffer said is similar to one by Shilder in the Peterhof Palace Museum, outside St. Petersburg. And for the last smokers in the world, there is a gilded silver Fabergé lighter in the form of a miniature samovar, circa 1900.

Antique Russian Porcelain Plaque of Christ

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Finely painted porcelain plaque of Jesus, in silver mount.

Russian, ca. 1900
2-5/8 x 2 inches

$28,000

Russian Treasures – As mentioned in The New York Times

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The 150-year-old company À la Vieille Russie has greatly expanded its gallery at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street. “We wanted to have more space to do exhibitions,” said Mark Schaffer, an owner. The first show, “St. Petersburg and Imperial Style,” includes antique Russian jewelry, Russian furniture, large Russian paintings, Imperial porcelain and enamel-monogrammed glasses.

A Fabergé silver caviar dish in the form of a salmon and a Fabergé cut-glass-and-silver punch bowl would look good atop the mahogany ladies’ writing table inlaid with marquetry foliage. Above it you could hang the portrait of Czar Nicholas II by Nikolai G. Shilder, which Mr. Schaffer said is similar to one by Shilder in the Peterhof Palace Museum, outside St. Petersburg. And for the last smokers in the world, there is a gilded silver Fabergé lighter in the form of a miniature samovar, circa 1900.

from

Antiques: Russian Treasures
Source: The New York Times, December 19, 2003
By Wendy Moonan.

Excerpted from The New York Times, December 19, 2003. Page E41.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

Teatime! Traditions Steeped in Nationalism

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Russian Tea Drinkers from chatterbox magazine
From “Russian Tea-houses and Tea-drinkers” in Chatterbox, 1867

How greatly tea is used in England by every class of society, we all know… But greatly as tea is used in England, it is still in Russia more common. From the palaces of the great and wealthy nobles, down to the wretched hovels of the poor peasants, tea is the universal beverage. – James F. Cobb

James F. Cobb noted the significance of tea in Russian culture in his 1867 article “Russian Tea-houses and Tea-drinkers” for the English publication Chatterbox.  While Mr. Cobb noted that British tea culture has its own interesting history and customs, Russian culture is steeped in its own rich tea traditions.

Pictured right: Gilded silver teapot with the Imperial Eagle. St. Petersburg, ca. 1785Gilded Silver Imperial Teapot with Russian Imperial Eagle

Russian tea’s status as a national beverage was slow to brew. When it was first introduced in the seventeenth century, Russians were skeptical. This early tea was very different from the tea drunk today. The tea was in a brick form, which was smashed and mixed with grain and butter, and then consumed as both a meal and beverage.

In the eighteenth century, during the reign of Catherine the Great (1762-1796), tea consumption increased slightly, but it remained expensive and rare, confining its consumption to the Russian aristocracy who used it primarily for medicinal purposes.

Russian Cloisonné Enamel Teapot and Silver Napkin Ring with Imperial MonogramIt was not until late in the nineteenth century that tea became a national beverage consumed by all classes. By this time, the cost of tea had decreased by half, and thus more widely accessible. Also by this time, Russian tea, and its customs and material culture, became associated with national identity thanks to the work of the country’s most revered writers. Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Checkov wrote about tea as a part of everyday life, celebrating the samovar in particular as a symbol of Russianness.

Pictured left: Gilded silver and cloisonné enamel teapot. Moscow, ca. 1900

Some scholars speculate that the samovar is actually an English invention, as both the English and Dutch made the earliest vessels for brewing tea and coffee in the late seventeenth century. The first samovar likely came to Russia in the early eighteenth century, taken by Peter the Great as one of many aspects of western culture he hoped to emulate to modernize Russia. The technology of the samovar better suited a Russian home, which was heated with a large stove, instead of an open fireplace to easily boil water. It is not the samovar itself that makes Russian tea. Rather, the samovar dispenses boiled water for diluting the concentrated tea, which is brewed in a small teapot, or zavarka, as shown in the introductory illustration.

By the turn-of-the-century, the invented tradition of Russian tea was an integral part of Russian identity. For Russians, the day began and ended with tea. In the morning it was enjoyed with sweet buns, plain rolls, or bread with butter and maybe a little cheese. A few hours after dinner was vecherny tchai, or evening tea consumed with various cold cuts, cheeses, small cakes and candied fruits.

Tea was enjoyed inside and out of the home. In the nineteenth century men congregated in teahouses according to their class – ones for wealthy merchants and others for their carriage drivers. The gendering of Russian tea culture was delineated by these establishments and also by objects. Men drank their tea from a glass set in an elaborately ornamented metal holder, like the one picture below, while women drank their tea from a cup.

Antique Russian Enamel Tea Glass Holder

Pictured: Gilded silver and cloisonné enamel tea glass holder. By the 11th Artel, Moscow, ca. 1910.

Regardless of how much Russian tea customs are the product of nineteenth-century nationalism, beautiful works of art, like the tea glass holder and teapots illustrated in this post, attest to the significance of tea in Russian culture, past and present…even if that past is not so long ago.

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References:

Cobb, James F.  “Russian Tea-houses and Tea-drinkers.” Chatterbox. London, 1867.

Hardie, Anne-Marie. “Exploring the Origins of Russian Tea Culture.” The Daily Tea. August 6, 2015. Accessed August 12, 2015.

Jones, Catherine Cheremeteff. A Year of Russian Feasts. Bethesda, Md: Jellyroll Press, 2002.

Papashivily, Helen and George. The Cooking of Russia. New York: Time-Life Books, 1972.

Yoder, Audra Jo. “Myth and Memory in Russian Tea Culture.” Studies in Slavic Cultures. August 8, 2009.

Hidden Histories: Mark Antokolsky’s Portal to Prominence

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In mid-nineteenth-century Russia in the town of Vilna, there lived a boy named Mordekhai, but everyone called him Motke. He loved working with his hands, filling makeshift sketchbooks and any available surface with scenes and figures, including walls, tables, and chairs. Even his family’s tavern door was not free of his hand, where he drew a fully armed soldier to frighten away drunkards.

Motke was called leimene hand (clay hands) or leimener geilom (clay statue) for his clumsiness when helping with the family business. Little did anyone know how much these pejorative nicknames prophesized, as those clay hands would one day breathe life not only in clay, but also wood, marble, and bronze.  Art history knows him not as Motke or Mordekhai, but Mark Antokolsky (1843-1902), the most famous Russian sculptor of the nineteenth century.

Antokolski by Repin 1914

By Ilya Repin, 1914
From Wikimedia Commons

Antokolsky was one of a very few successful Jewish artists in Russia from the nineteenth century. In Russia it was more difficult for Jews to achieve artistic success than in other countries. Artistic pursuits were also not welcomed within the Jewish community. Intellectual training was traditionally revered, unlike art, and all handwork trades, which were looked down upon.

Art was considered frivolous, and figure drawing in particular was taboo. Antokolsky’s parents tried to discourage his artistic inclination, which they regarded as sinful, and his father often beat him for making “idols.” Eventually they relented, and his father arranged for him to apprentice with various artisans. The young sculptor was unhappy with all of them, until he became the pupil of the wood carver Stassel’krout, remaining his apprentice for three years.

His work so impressed the wife of Vilna’s governor-general that she helped him travel to St. Petersburg to receive a stipend from Baron Horace Ginzberg to attend the Imperial Academy of Arts. In 1862 he was the first Jewish student to be accepted at the Imperial Academy of Arts, but only as a volnoslushatel, meaning someone who can attend class but not be put on the official student list.

A combination of such luck and talent laid the foundation for Antokolsky’s success. Starting in the 1860s, a relaxation of restrictive laws, among other factors, made it easier for Jews to acquire artistic training in Moscow and St. Petersburg. At last, artistic portrayals of Russian-Jewish life would no longer be confined to the ethnographic domain, as Jews appropriated their own image.

Antokolsky had one foot in the Russian and European art world and another in the Pale of Settlement, which was a world in and of itself. Though he deviated from tradition in pursuit of art, he would not sacrifice his strong Jewish identity for success. He remained observant by not working on the Sabbath and enthusiastically attended High Holiday services. His Jewish heritage inspired much of his work. In 1864 he received a silver medal for his wood carving Jewish Tailor. This honor was a significant turning point in the representation of Jews in art, as this was the first time in Russian sculpture that an image of a Jew was presented in a dignified manner and not conforming to stereotypes. The prominent art critic Vladimir Stasov praised the work, saying it represented “a launching of the new and true sculpture,” also remarking, “Before Antokolsky, not a single sculptor in the whole of Europe had endeavored to portray scenes of Jewish national life and to become an explorer of these innovative landscapes.”

One Jewish subject depicted by Antokolsky is the seventeenth century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). This portrait, on view here at A La Vieille Russie, was part of a project called the Friends of Mankind, a group of historical and biblical figures Antokolsky admired for their devotion to truth and kindness. Ever devoted to historical accuracy, Antokolsky meticulously researched his subjects and Spinoza was no exception. He pieced together every little biographical detail he could find and was frustrated with the discrepancies encountered in many portraits.  He also went on a trip to Amsterdam to “peep in the environment where Spinoza came from and to breathe in the air there.”

Marble portrait of Baruch Spinoza by Mark Antokolsky

Antokolsky felt a strong inner bond between Spinoza and himself, as Spinoza’s dual identity paralleled his own: they both challenged tradition, becoming outsiders within and outside of their communities. A descendent of marranos (Jews who converted during the Spanish Inquisition but practiced Judaism secretly or later returned to it), Spinoza was raised in a deeply religious household and educated to become a rabbi. However, he became drawn to secular subjects, particularly philosophy, and began to question aspects of his faith. Accused of betraying Judaism and becoming an atheist, he was excommunicated in 1656 at 24 years old, and later exiled from Amsterdam. Although he never abandoned Judaism and changed religions, his unconventional views were threatening to a Jewish community still recovering from the Spanish Inquisition and concerned with reviving and maintaining traditions.

Ivan the Terrible by Mark AntokolskyAntokolsky’s portraits of important figures in Russian history are also highly regarded, two of which are for sale here at A La Vieille Russie. One such portrait is a ceramic bust of Ivan the Terrible. Ivan was produced in a variety of media, including marble, plaster, and silver. Majolica was a rare medium for Antokolsky. Originally executed in bronze in 1871, the portrait won Antokolsky many honors, and he became famous overnight. To become so renowned in one’s own lifetime is a significant accomplishment for any artist, and accompanying this instant fame was a gold medal and the title of  Academician. The portrait impressed Tsar Alexander II so much that he commissioned a copy for the Hermitage, now in the Russian State Museum. As with all his works, Antokolsky meticulously researched Ivan’s life and character, also spending four months in the Kremlin Armory studying designs for the throne and costume.

Another notable historical portrait in our collection is a bronze of Nestor the Chronicler, the eleventh century Kievan monk credited as the author of Primary Chronicle, or Tale of Bygone Years, the only written record of Russia’s early history. Antokolsky thoroughly read the Chronicle as he worked on the portrait, and the plain wooden table, clothing, and Nestor the Chronicler by Mark Antokolskyother features reflect his loyalty to historical accuracy. The first version of Nestor was made in bronze in 1890 and was over five feet tall. It was originally in the Hermitage and moved to the Russian Museum in 1897.

Due to a combination of health problems and anti-Semitic aggression, Antokolsky moved abroad, first to Rome in 1871 and then Paris in 1877, but his heart remained in Russia and he returned periodically. He continued to receive honors, including a gold medal at the 1878 Exposition Universelle, and again in 1900. In 1893 he was named a full member of the Imperial Academy of Arts. He died at the age of sixty-one in 1902, at last returning to the land of his birth, and is buried in St. Petersburg. The young clay hands who once left his mark on his family home, grew up to leave his mark on the world.

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References:

Ambromowicz, Hirsz, et al. Profiles of a Lost World: Memoirs of East European Jewish Life Before World War II. Wayne State University Press, 1999.

Glants, Musya. Where Is My Home?  The Art and Life of the Russian Jewish Sculptor Mark Antokolsky. 1843-1902. Lexington Books, 2010.

Goodman, Susan Tumarkin, ed. Russian Jewish Artists in a Century of Change 1890-1990. Prestel-Verlag/Jewish Museum, 1995.

Hidden Histories:
Roubaud’s Ethnographic View of Jewish Life in Imperial Russia

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Franz Roubaud Village Merchants
Franz Roubaud (Odessa 1856-1928 Munich)
Village Merchants: Street of Jarmolinzi in Podolien
Oil on canvas: 33.5 x 59 inches (85 x 150 cm)
Signed and dated lower left: F. Roubaud 1897

This painting, Village Merchants: Street of Jarmolinzi in Podolien, by Franz Roubaud, depicts a village scene in the Podolia region of Ukraine, which, along with other lands formerly part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, became part of the Russian Empire in the late eighteenth century.

The scene befits the title, showing townspeople peddling wares and conducting business transactions. Nearly half of Podolia’s Jews were involved in commerce. The village’s muddy street and modest buildings beneath a grey sky imply the hardships of everyday life.

As viewers we are removed from the scene, observing from a distance, a perspective that matches the marginalization of Jews in Russian society. Jews were restricted to the periphery of the Russian Empire, in what was called the Pale of Settlement. It was initially created to impose commercial restrictions on Jews and generally to prevent integration with the rest of Russia’s population.

In sum, Jews were outsiders, seen as the “other,” and this perception factored into their artistic representation. In Roubaud’s rendering of this village, he was an outsider looking in. He was not Jewish, the son of a Frenchman living in Russia. Renowned for painting grand, panoramic battle scenes, like A Tale of the Caucasus:

Franz Roubaud  A Tale of the Caucasus
Franz Roubaud (Russian, 1856-1928)
A Tale of the Caucasus
signed and dated 'F. Roubaud/1907.' (lower right)
oil on canvas 56¼ x 77½ in. (142.8 x 197.2 cm.)

Village Merchants stands apart from Roubaud’s oeuvre. In this brief break from the battlefield, Roubaud participates in a tradition of non-Jewish Russian artists depicting Jews in art. Starting in the nineteenth century, Russian artists became interested in Jewish life, illustrating their subjects under an ethnographic, as well as artistic, lens.

Franz Roubaud portrait
Roubaud, 1916
Reproduced from Hans-Peter Bühler, Jäger, Kosaken und polnische 
Reiter Josef von Brandt, Alfred von Wierusz-Kowalski, 
Franz Roubaud und der Münchner Polenkreis. (Georg Olms Verlag, 1993), 142

Roubaud began his studies in Odessa, whose significant Jewish population clearly left an impression on the artist. From 1878-1883 he studied at the Royal Bavarian Academy of Arts in Munich, developing his skills particularly under the guidance of the Polish artist Josef von Brandt. Roubaud produced his initial sketch for Jarmolinzi in 1882, which features a close study of the buildings, though devoid of townspeople:

Franz Roubaud 1882 sketch Jarmolinzi
1882 Study, 11.4 x 8.2 in. (29 x 20.8 cm)
Reproduced from Hans-Peter Bühler, Jäger, Kosaken und 
polnische Reiter Josef von Brandt, Alfred von Wierusz-Kowalski, 
Franz Roubaud und der Münchner Polenkreis. (Georg Olms Verlag, 1993), 134

From the time of this sketch to the painting’s completion in 1897, Russia’s Jews experienced heightened persecution. They were targeted as an easy scapegoat for the 1881 assassination of Alexander II, inciting several pogroms (mob violence) across the Podolia region. This violence, in addition to new economic restrictions enforced by the government, made life increasingly difficult. These factors inspired significant emigration, mostly to North America.

Other aspects of Jewish life have also inspired artistic expression. Contemporaneous with Roubaud’s 1897 painting, the Yiddish author and playwright Sholem Aleichem wrote about life in the Pale of Settlement. In 1894, he penned Tevye and his Daughters and other stories, later inspiring the musical Fiddler on the Roof, which premiered on Broadway in 1964.  The musical’s title and original set design were inspired by Marc Chagall. In the final act, Tevye and his family have been expelled from the fictional village Anatevka and flee to more welcoming shores, singing words familiar to many at the turn of the twentieth century, “soon I’ll be a stranger in a strange new place, searching for an old familiar face.”

Roubaud’s painting does not reflect such chaos and vulnerability, but a quiet existence. Jewish life in Russia is a multifaceted subject, and Roubaud’s window is but one view.

The next few blog posts will further examine Jewish subjects in Russian art, as well as Russian Jewish artists. While this post explored Jewish subjects in ethnographic art, our next post will highlight Jewish subjects in Russian art by one of their own, the most famous Russian Jewish artist of the nineteenth century, Mark Antokolsky.

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Antique Natural Pearl and Diamond Love Knot Brooch

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Natural pearl and old-mine diamond love knot brooch, set in gold.

Russian, possibly by Bolin, ca. 1890.
Length: 2 in.

$15,000

This item is available for purchase in the ALVR shop.

Antique Natural Pearl and Diamond Love Knot Brooch, back

A Wood Relief of the Moscow Kremlin

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Wood Relief of the Moscow Kremlin

The Moscow Kremlin is a historic, fortified complex at the heart of Moscow and is the best known of the Russian Kremlins or fortresses. The word kremlin comes from the word krepest, meaning fortress. The existing Kremlin walls and towers were built in the late 15th century, and for centuries, the Moscow Kremlin has been a favorite subject of Russian artists because it was the seat of power for the Tsars and the dictators that followed.

This panoramic view, rendered in rust, deep greens, beige, and burnished gold, is glimpsed over the sea-green Moskva River. This folkloric carving features gold, onion-domed churches as well as the Ivan the GreatBellTower. The Tower marks the exact center of Moscow and is said to resemble a burning candle. Completed in 1600, it stands 81 meters high, and until the Russian Revolution, was the tallest structure in the city. Its 21 bells would sound the alarm if an enemy was approaching.

Also of note is the Spasskaya Tower, the main tower with its telltale clock, known as the Kremlin clock, which has been in place since at least the late 16th century.  The Tower’s stylized double-headed eagle finial places this carving in the Tsarist era of the late 19th or early 20th century.

The carving is in its original frame and Cyrillic picture plaque identifying the scene as the Moscow Kremlin. In the nineteenth century, romantic nationalism swept across many European countries. Given this trend, it is only fitting that a work of Russian Folk Art would choose an iconic Russian landmark as its subject.

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