On Monday 12th December, Geneva s Hôtel des ventes
will once again spend an evening reliving the splendour of the Russian Tsars by auctioning without reserve prices over 300 original photographs, many of which signed, of the Russian Imperial family. Estimated at an approximate total of 30,000 Swiss francs, this ensemble comes directly from the private Swiss collection of Ferdinand Thormeyer, tutor for the Russian court. Discreetly guarded by the same family until the present day, these images of Emperor Alexander III, Empress Maria Feodorovna, their heir Tsar Nicholas II and his siblings afford the public a closer look at the history surrounding the family of the last Tsars from a more intimate viewpoint. Hôtel des Ventes Director and Principal Auctioneer Bernard Piguet states : « The discovery of this until now veiled collection has such exceptional characteristics that it should attract the attention of the greatest collectors of Russian art throughout the globe as was the case in December 2010». Another main event of the evening of 12th December will be no doubt the auction of a rare 19th century Scythian style gold bracelet made by the celebrated jeweller Carl Fabergé (est. 50,000-80,000 Swiss francs) as well as a gilt-bronze and malachite table dating from the period of Tsar Alexander II (est. 30,000-50,000 Swiss francs).
Over 300 original and unpublished photographs from the Thormeyer collection, signed by the Russian Imperial family
The unique and distinguishing factor of the photograph collection to be sold on 12th December 2011 at Geneva s Hôtel des Ventes is its exceptional provenance from this private Swiss estate. The ensemble was recently discovered in Geneva in the loft of a descendant of Ferdinand Thormeyer, personal tutor to the Russian court during the final years of Imperial Russia.
In 1918, History changed course when the 300 year reign of the Romanovs over the Russian Empire was extinguished by the brutal assassination of Tsar Nicholas II, his Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, their four daughters and the 14 year old Tsarevich Alexi by the Bolsheviks. All remaining members of the dynasty who survived the revolt fled into exile.
Such a dramatic historical context clearly marks the importance of the discovery of these 300 or so photographs - never before exposed to the collectors market and kept a secret for so many years. The auction also takes place just one year after some 2000 documents from the same private collection were sold by Hôtel des Ventes for a total of 390,000 Swiss francs (December 2010 auction).
During his life, Ferdinand Thormeyer maintained contact with the Imperial family. Towards 1904-1905, he wrote to Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich telling him how he had created a Russian corner in his home including all the mementos collected at court. This explains the presence of two exceptional photo albums that are to be sold featuring official and less formal photographs of Tsar Alexander III, Empress Maria Feodorovna and their children, Tsar Nicholas II and the last Grand Dukes and Duchesses of Russia (est. 4,000-6,000 and 10,000-15,000 Swiss francs). Taken mainly by official Imperial Court photographers S. Levitsky et Ch. Bergamasco, these visual testimonies from the past are often signed by the sitters, for example, the photograph of Tsar Nicholas II flanked by his sister the Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna and her young husband Grand Duke Alexandro Mikhailovich (right: lot 270 est. 400-600 Swiss francs). The albums equally include many images of Grand Duke Mikhail Aexandrovich - the somewhat favourite of Mr Thormeyer - and his older brother, the more rarely photographed Grand Duke George Alexandrovich who also met his own untimely death at a mere 28 years old.
Correspondence between Thormeyer and the Imperial family was exchanged continuously. Many lots in the sale include hand-written post cards from Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna and Tsar Nicholas II to their Carougeois personal tutor, Monsieur Ferdinand Thormeyer. In one particular card, the Tsar writes Dear Mr Thormeyer, wishing you a happy new year, from he who once called you an ass Nicholas (Tsar Nicholas II). (est. 300-500 Swiss francs).
The family of Mr Thormeyers descendants have also preserved an astonishing pair of gold, diamond and peridot button holes set with two photographs of Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich of Russia (circa 1900, lot 276, est. 3,000-5,000 Swiss francs).
From Carl Fabergé to Tselkov
In addition to the Romanov pieces, the Russian art section will be headed by a rare gold and enamelled Scythian style bracelet by Carl Fabergé circa. 1885 (lot 248, est. 50,000-80,000 Swiss francs) as well as a malachite and gilt-bronze guéridon table from circa 1840 (est. 30,000-50,000). Impressive works of art in silver-gilt and cloisonné enamel by the renowned Maria Semyenova will also be presented at the auction, featuring an important kovsh decorated with the typical multi-toned floral designs she is so celebrated for (lot 234, est. 5,000-8,000).
Tea-services by the Imperial porcelain factories Kornilov and M.S. Kuznetsov, hand-painted plates by the Gardner factory, porcelain eggs, some 25 antique religious icons and six fairytale books bound as one volume magnificently illustrated by Ivan Bilibin (1876-1942) complement the variety of Russian works of art to be auctioned (lot 160, est. 600-800 Swiss francs).
Originally slated by critics and rejected by the official art of USSR , artist Oleg Tselkov (born 1934 in Moscow ) had to wait until the end of the 1970s to receive any acclaim and finally have his paintings exhibited the world over. His work typically depicts figures, animals or objects in bright colours with simplified or geometric forms, as with the 3 oil paintings to be auctioned by Geneva s Hotel des Ventes. His 1993 work entitled Cat portrays a feline painted in a camaïeu of bright violets (lot 185, est. 10,000-15,000).
Features of the December 2011 auctions
The Winter auction at Geneva s Hôtel des Ventes will take place from 12th 15th December. The selection of paintings will include a portrait painted in 1911 by Ernest Biéler (1863-1948) a recently discovered work that has never before appeared on the market and that has been with the same family for the past century (est. 80,000-120,000). Another star lot of this session will be Michael Jacksons Fedora hat, up for auction a at modest 2,000-3,000 Swiss francs - the trademark certain to attract fans of the king of pop. The weeks sales will continue to satisfy tradition through the furniture, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Silver and Asian Art sessions and will also present, without a doubt, the most eccentric object in the Winter auction; a solid silver chess table weighing in at almost 30 kilos (30,000-50,000 Swiss francs). Almost 100 lots of prestigious leather goods featuring many luxury brand handbags will be auctioned along with a Stokowski desk trunk by Louis Vuitton, expected to reach over 15,000 Swiss francs. The sale of 600 items of Jewellery and Watches on Thursday will end the weeks sales with a sparkle. Promising a concentration of very beautiful pieces ranging from 500 Swiss francs to 50,000 Swiss francs, the great names will once again be on offer: Cartier, Hermès, Patek Philippe, Rolex, Van Cleef & Arpels and Vacheron Constantin.