On 27 March 2022, Hermitage Fine Art will auction a private collection of works by Alexander Nikolaievich Benois and his son, Nikolai Alexandrovich Benois, at Le Méridien Beach Plaza Hotel, Monaco.
Alexander Benois was an artist, art historian, art critic and founder of "Mir iskusstva" (the World of Art) association. The Benois clan had a significant impact on the culture of the Silver Age. Among the family members are the artist Zinaida Serebryakova and Albert Cavos, the inventor of the Mariinsky Theatre plan. Born in the family of the architect Nikolai Benois, Alexander was immersed in art from childhood: at the gymnasium, evening classes, and - finally - at the Academy of Arts.
The two dozen watercolour drawings by Alexandre Benois, presented at the auction, were painted during his travels in France and Italy with his family and friends. Brittany, Normandy, Provence - the artist spent several months in his travels studying nature and tirelessly recreating it in his drawings. Benois would rise at dawn to capture the early morning's fresh breath and vivid colours. His children accompanied him and later shared his passion for art.
Alexander Benois is a master of watercolour. In the drawing "Summer excursion on a boat to Cassis. 1931", the artist conveys the pleasure of people hiding from the sultry southern sun under the canopy of a boat with calm tones. Blue is the dominating colour in this work: the woman's blue dress, the blue sea, the blue stripes on the canopy. By looking at it, one feels the salt on the lips, the pleasant coolness of the sea breeze and a special "southern" atmosphere.
In another seascape drawing, the artist depicted his friend Boris Chaliapin - the famous painter and sculptor, son of the great singer Fyodor Chaliapin - with his wife. Here Benois uses his favourite colour palette and technique: he barely touches the sheet of paper with his brush and leaves some parts untouched.
Although the artist preferred painting landscapes during his travels, especially fields and lakes, he also painted interior compositions. An early morning, pale sunlight, a white tablecloth with light grey folds - this is how the artist sees "Easter Morning". Flowers, light tones, and table setting - with light strokes he conveys Easter's festive and solemn atmosphere. It is noteworthy that the present watercolour features a stage design for Les Noces de Psyche et de l'Amour by A.Benois in the background.
A special place is reserved for the drawing of "Verona. Piazza delle Erbe. 1952". At the time, Nikolai, son of Alexandre Benois, was working in Verona on sketches for an opera and Benois experts suggest that Alexandre went then to Verona to visit his son. A cafe in the square, Benois-father is sketching with a pencil - and a bird flying over the table leaves a dropping on the drawing. But Benois doesn't lose his zest for life or his wit: next to the drawing, he inscribes, "Coca thinks it's good luck!".
Coca, as Nikolai was called by family members, was also devoted to art, but mostly theatre. In his childhood he started painting with his father en plein air, then studied at the Academy of Arts and in 1919, and made his debut as a set designer, creating sets for plays and ballets. The younger Benois was invited by the world's most famous theatres - from La Scala in Milan to the Royal Opera House in Rome. Nikolai spent a lot of time at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, working, for example, on productions of Tchaikovsky's "Mazepa" and Verdi's "Masked ball". But even though theatrical activity was the main focus of his life, he continued drawing and often exhibited his paintings and drawings at art exhibitions.