$60 Million Suprematist Canvas Repatriated to the Artist’s Family
“With the sale of Malevich’s 1916 Suprematist Composition,” Jo Vickery, Head of Sotheby’s Russian Art Department, “it feels as though history has come full circle: we have a blazing debut of early Suprematist art at the top of the international art market. It’s an historical moment of a personal dimension for the artist’s family, and for us all a chance to reconsider Malevich’s unique contribution to art history. He dreamt of creating a kind of art which would speak to all nations equally and his pioneering abstract paintings cut through old ways of defining art, as well as breaking down political and national boundaries.”
Reuters spoke to Emmanuel Di-Donna, Head of the New York Evening Sale, before giving a capsule history of the battle between the Malevich heirs and the museums that held his works:
“This is an absolute modern masterpiece that dates from the best possible period for Malevich — 1916,” said Emmanuel Di-Donna [ . . . ] . “This is arguably a much better painting than anything offered by Malevich, ever,” he told Reuters.
Sotheby’s said the existing record for Russian art at auction is a painting by Kandinsky which raised $20.9 million in 1990. The Malevich record is $17.1 million set in 2000. Asked if the valuation was aggressive, Di-Donna replied: “There have been some unbelievable prices for iconic works of art, and Malevich is to Russians what Rothko is to Americans.”
Bloomberg has more on the tale behind the heirs:
The idea of restitution of Malevich’s art began in 1993 when German art historian Clemens Toussaint scoured the former Soviet Union for Malevich’s heirs, Toussaint said in a 1999 interview in St. Petersburg. He convinced the heirs to press a claim for Malevich works held by MoMA and the Stedelijk. In June 1999, MoMA paid the heirs an undisclosed cash settlement, and handed over a 1925 painting, also titled “Suprematist Composition,” according to a MoMA press release. MoMA kept the other 15 paintings.
The heirs sold the 1925 “Suprematist Composition” at a Phillips International auction in May 2000 for $17 million. The identity of the Malevich heirs remains a guarded secret, and Toussaint declined to name any.