November 26, 2012

Russian Literature at Bonhams

New York—Henrietta Leon Girshman’s carnets de salon reveal the storied life of an early 20th-century doyenne of society and culture. Her two-volume set of autograph albums abound with more than 100 inscriptions, sketches, musical passages, literary quotations and autographs penned by the celebrated guests who gathered at her “Red Gates” mansion in Moscow. The Girshman salons drew creative and cultural luminaries who staged performances and shared ideas, and her guest books capture the spirit of the events and period. These historically rich and fascinating books are among the star lots at Bonhams December 5 New York auction of Russian Literature and Works on Paper (est. $200,000-$300,000).

Henrietta Girshman and her husband, industrialist, art collector and patron, Vladimir Girshman, fostered cultural exchanges and initiatives by organizing art-oriented programs and meetings and founding the Society of Free Esthetics (1907-1917). On the artistic vanguard, they opened their home for recitals, poetry readings and theatrical improvisations and welcomed such friends as Valery Bryusov, Andrei Belyi, Mikhail Kuz'min, Valentin Serov, Konstantin Korovin, Sergei Diaghilev, Vasily Kachalov, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Alexander Scriabin, Fedor Shaliapin, Maxim Gorky, Konstantin Balmont, Jurgis Baltushaitis, Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, Vladimir Horowitz, Bela Bartok, and Mstislav Dobuzhinsky. Her notebooks, which began in 1899, are filled with their warm notes of appreciation and admiration, humorous poetic passages and even declarations of love.
Strikingly beautiful, Henrietta inspired several well-known Russian artists to paint her portrait. Valentin Serov’s rendering of her in her boudoir hangs at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Henrietta stares at the viewer, secure in her status as the influential center of Russian culture.

The 1917 Russian Revolution forced the Girshmans into exile. Their house was confiscated and its contents and their art collection were nationalized. They eventually settled in Paris, and Henrietta revived her salon albeit on a smaller scale. Henrietta saved these albums, continuing to record visits until 1965. Additional notes were testament to her continued role on the vanguard for the arts. James Joyce, Claude Debussy, Tomazzo Marinetti, Igor Stravinsky, Vasily Nemorovich-Danchenko, Konstantin Stanislavsky, Leonard Bernstein, Vladimir Nabokov, Konstantin Somov and Yehudi Menuhin composed notes and K. Yuoon, Konstantin Somov, M. Dobuzhinsky, Albert Benua, and Aleksandr Yakovlev added drawings for their friend.

These remarkable albums capture sixty years of dynamic periods in arts and culture through the life of Henrietta Leon Girshman.

Other items in this auction include original Constructivist works on paper; autographs and ephemera of the Ballets Russe; avant-garde children's books; samizdat publications; and high-spots in Russian literature. Some of the star lots include an autograph manuscript by Osip Mandelstam of his poem, “Petersburg Stanzas,” penned in 1913, the only known manuscript version of this important and early Acmeist poem (est. $50,000-$70,000); a school notebook containing holograph drafts from a chapter of Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (est. $30,000-$50,000); and a suite of 16 original lithographs by Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov printed in 1913 (est. $25,000-$35,000). 

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Preview:     December 1 and 2, 12pm-5pm; December 3, 10am-7pm; 
December 4, 10am-5pm
Auction:     December 5 in New York