Chagall and Soutine’s new return to homeland

World art masterpieces created by Belarus-born masters may soon be showcased in Minsk
By Yury Chernyakevich

A report by Belarusian news agencies has aroused interest among all art lovers: not long ago, Belgazprombank purchased four valuable paintings from Sotheby’s auction house. Three of the Parisian school paintings are by Belarus-born Marc Chagall: Le Somnambule (bought for $341,000), Pendule Au Ciel Embrasй ($605,000) and Paysage Vert — painted in the late 1940s, ($137,000). The fourth is Chaim Soutine’s Eva (1928) — costing almost $2m.

Until 2012, Belarus — the homeland of Chagall and Soutine — possessed not a single original work by these artists. However, in February 2012, Belgazprombank bought Soutine’s Les Grands Pres a Chartres ($400,000), alongside Chagall’s Les Amoureux ($650,000), from Christie’s. The Belarus-born Parisian school artists show at the National Art Museum featured both works, among many others rarely gathered together.

People often ponder how much pictures by Chagall, Soutine, Kikoine or Kremen cost, guessing several hundred Dollars. Certainly, their value goes beyond currency. On seeing the works exhibited in Vitebsk, your heart quite stops in pride and admiration. It’s wonderful to be able to appreciate and compare such works, although we might envy those who own such masterpieces in private collections.

Works by Belarus-born Parisian school artists are greatly in demand, leading to prices rising. In February 2007, Sotheby’s witnessed a global sensation when L’Homme au Foulard Rouge by Soutine (born in Smilovichi, near Minsk) sold for an incredible $17m — setting a new record among Expressionistic paintings. Chagall’s Bestiare et Musique (1969) sold for almost $4m at a Seoul auction in October 2010 while Picasso’s Le Modele dans L’atelier went for just over $2m. Michel Kikione’s Lying was sold for $800,000 Euros in 2007 while the average price of works by another Belarus-born artist — Pinhas Kremen — varies from $10,000-$15,000.

To buy a work by an acknowledged master, you need hundreds of thousands or, even, millions of Dollars so few are in a position to buy. Such prices have been an insurmountable obstacle for Belarusian museums but Belgazprombank’s decision to acquire the works, for exhibition in Minsk, Gomel and Vitebsk, has sent a lifeline to art lovers in our country. It’s hardly surprising that there is huge interest in the masterpieces: the bank’s present corporate art collection by Expressionist artists is actually the largest in Belarus and, even, in Eastern Europe. Plans are afoot to buy more such paintings, as Belgazprombank’s Chairman of the Board, Victor Babariko, emphasises. He tells us, “We wish to further expand our collection. Belarusians’ sincere interest in art has inspired us to make new plans.”

The existing art project is being taken up by Art-Belarus, adds Mr. Babariko. “We plan to open a museum or gallery showing Belarus-born artists’ contribution to global art culture — from the times of the Polotsk Principality to our modern day. Besides paintings, we’ll display Frantsisk Skorina’s books, Slutsk sashes and Napoleon Orda’s drawings. It’s possible to gather these exhibits with help from state museums and private collectors. We may even discover Yevfrosiniya Polotskaya’s famous cross. We’d love to believe this could happen,” he muses. The future project has a single aim: to enable visitors (mostly schoolchildren and students) to learn about Belarusian history by seeing our national wealth with their own eyes, rather than only in textbooks. Belarusian art lovers are soon to enjoy new surprises and discoveries, admiring world and national artefacts previously available to only a few collectors. The time cannot come soon enough.
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