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Ilya Ye. Repin (1844-1930) – Narcissus

Sold for SEK 820.000 at Uppsala Auktionskammares Important Sale 11-14 December 2018

Lot 995. Ilya Yefimovich Repin (Russia 1844‑1930). ”Narcissus”. Signed in Cyrillic and dated 1916. Oil on canvas, 220 x 118 cm.

We would like to express our gratitude to Mrs Tatiana Petrovna Borodina, Head of the Department, The I.E. Repin’s Memorial Estate Penaty for providing additional catalogue information.

The Russian artist Vasili Levi (1878‑1954), acquired directly from the artist ca. 1920.
A donation to Stiftelsen Jämtlands läns Konstförening, JLK (The Art Association of Jämtland), in 1945, in their Accession catalogue JLM/JKL 1‑1199, in the Jamtli Archive, possibly given by the Russian artist Vasili Levi.
Stiftelsen Jamtli, Östersund.

A.M. Komashka, Three years with Repin from the book The artistic legacy of Repin, 1949, pp. 283-300.
Torbjörn Aronsson, Ilja Repins målning ”Narcissus” i Jämtlands läns konstförenings samling – en studie i dess proveniens (The painting ”Narcissus” by Ilja Repin in the collection of Jämtlands läns konstförening – a study of its provenance), 2014.

In context:

Ilya Repin was from the 1900’s living at Penaty in Kuokkala in the Eastern parts of Finland, today’s Repino in Russia, not far from St. Petersburg. At this time he was a well-established Russian artist, highly appreciated for his realistic genre paintings of Russian people, characterful portraits and historizing motifs. Presented in this sale is the recently rediscovered painting ”Narcissus”, executed during Repin’s time at Penaty. To art historians in Russia, the painting has for a long time not been known to have survived throughout the years. Sensationally it has, since the year of 1945, been a part of the collections of Jamtli, a museum in Östersund in the northern parts of Sweden.

”Narcissus” was acquired by the artist Vasili Levi (1878-1954) a few years after its execution, around 1920, together with among 45 other works by Repin. Following the turbulence after the Russian revolution in 1917, Levi together with his wife Beatrice, had settled in the Eastern parts of Finland, not far away from Repin. Levi now became interested in the arts and, encouraged by Repin, started an artistic career himself. He was also active as an art dealer and arranged exhibitions with works by himself and Repin. During the following decades the Levi family moved around; to Warsaw, Prague and Paris, and at the outbreak of the war in 1939 came to the city of Gävle and later on settled in Stockholm. During the years in Sweden he regularly exhibited his works in different cities.

In February 1945 Vasili Levi participated in a group exhibition in Östersund, at the Grand Hotel. The exhibition was followed by a solo exhibition by Levi in March 1946. Between these exhibitions, in August or September of 1945, ”Narcissus” was donated to Jämtlands Läns Konstförening, JLK (The Art Association of Jämtland). Originally the painting was registered as a gift from an anonymous donor, however, in a catalogue of the JLK-collection from 1955, the painting ”Narcissus” is registered as a gift from ”the artist V. Levy”.

Vasili Levi was being interviewed in the local newspaper Östersundsposten on March 8, 1946. In the article Levi recounts the background of ”Narcissus”; that he once owned the painting and that it was part of a collection of works that he purchased from Repin about 1920. During the following years, Levi was financially stressed and therefore found a partner in a Finnish businessman who acquired the value of 2/3 of the collection, while Levi himself remained as a 1/3 owner of the works. After this there seems to be a gap in the history of these paintings. According to the article, Levi claims that the works were exhibited in Stockholm and that the Finnish businessman later on, after some doubtful affairs, disappeared. Levi says that he later on was asked to assist with the sale of the collection that, at this time was supposed to have been in the USA, but he rejected to offer them his help. Further on during the years, he says that he from time to time came across works from the collection among these ”Narcissus” that appeared in Östersund. The article terminates with the saying ”Habent picturae sua fata” – the pictures have their destiny. Most likely, it is to presume that Vasili Levi at the time of the donation of the painting wished to stay anonymous.

Depicting a mythological scene, ”Narcissus” separates itself from the more common motifs by Ilya Repin. Narcissus was a Laconian hunter, well known for his beauty and his love for everything beautiful. Repin has depicted the young, strong man by a pond in the beautiful flourishing forest, gazing and admiring his own reflection in the water.

In the spring of 2018 Jamtli was, after contacting The Russian State Museum, visited by Professor Philip Yurievich Bobrov, Painting Restoration Department, Repin Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, and Director Tatyana Petrovna Borodina, Ilya Repin Estate Museum, Penaty. They both examined the painting in reality, a work that until then only was known to them through a note in a catalogue. According to them the model for Narcissus is most likely the nephew of Repin and it is to presume that the signature was made by Repin’s daughter.

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