The Wall Street Journal Profiles the Malevich and Its Provenance
David D’Arcy tells the convoluted story of how Sotheby’s Malevich (right) came to market:
In 1927, with Stalin in the Kremlin tightening rules on art, Malevich left for the West, taking 100 pictures. There was praise and a potential market for his work in Warsaw and Berlin. Then came an official letter summoning him home, citing “visa problems.” He left his art in Berlin, returned to Russia, and stayed there for the rest of his life. Malevich died in 1935, an impoverished and intimidated “bourgeois formalist,” argot for artists unacceptable to Soviet officialdom.
What followed is a convoluted tale of claims, stratagems, payoffs and seizures. D’Arcy points out that Phillips sold in 2000 for $17 million one Malevich that had been caught up in the intrigue:
Will Monday’s auction be a $60 million victory lap in the Malevich family’s marathon? Malevich, while rare at auction, is not a market stalwart like Picasso or Rothko or Warhol, even though Sotheby’s places “Suprematist Composition” in the “masterpiece market.” The $17 million that the former MoMA Malevich made at auction was only $2 million above Phillips’s guarantee. In 2003, a 1915 “Suprematist Painting, Rectangle and Circle” returned by the Busch-Reisinger and estimated at $5 million to $7 million crashed at Sotheby’s when bidding stopped at $4.6 million.
To minimize any risk, Sotheby’s has contracted with an unnamed “irrevocable bidder” — not a Russian, Sotheby’s says — to guarantee a minimum bid, acceptable to the family, at which the painting will sell if bids don’t go higher. If bids exceed that prearranged price and another buyer acquires the picture, Sotheby’s will compensate the “irrevocable bidder.”
If This Picture Could Talk (Wall Street Journal)