A Passion For Russian Art


They were among the leading lights of Russian Post-Impressionism, a once highly acclaimed group of avant-garde Jewish painters based in Odessa in the years prior to the Russian Revolution.

Many of these painters’ brightly colored, often whimsical works were collected by an early 20th-century patron named Yakov Peremen, who brought them with him when he made aliyah to British Mandate Palestine in 1919. But Peremen never realized his dream of opening a museum in Tel Aviv and exhibiting the paintings, and they fell into almost complete obscurity after his death in 1960.

In recent months, Sonya Bekkerman, head of Sotheby’s Russian Paintings department — herself a Russian Jew with a passion for the Russian Post-Impressionists — has brought the Peremen Collection out of obscurity. She exhibited the works in Tel Aviv and Kiev in preparation for their auction.

This week, when the entire 86-painting collection goes on the auction block here, Bekkerman will be keeping her fingers crossed that the entire group will be purchased by one collector — hopefully at Sotheby’s suggested price of $1.5 million-$2 million.

“We would love to sell the collection as a totality and hope the collection lands with a buyer who appreciates its historical importance,” Bekkerman said. “What we are offering here is something very unusual; a chance to purchase an entire school of painters. It’s a bit like selling all the French Impressionists in one lot.”

The leading painters of the works in the Peremen collection —members of the Odessa Society of Independent Artists like Amshei Nurenberg (1887-1979) and Theofil Fraerman (1883-1957) were prominent in their time, but are nearly forgotten today.

Peremen, Bekkerman said, was obsessed with the idea of opening a museum in Tel Aviv in the 1920s and ‘30s, one large enough to exhibit his entire collection of Post-Impressionists. At one point, he turned down an appeal from fellow Odessa native Mayer Dizengoff, Tel Aviv’s first mayor, to donate several of the paintings to the Tel Aviv Museum, because he did not want to break up the collection. After Peremen’s death, the collection made its way circuitously from his heirs to another owner and then to Sotheby’s.

Bekkerman said that finding the Peremen collection and preparing it for the April 22 auction has had special meaning for her.

“For any specialist in Sotheby’s, it is incredible experience to rediscover lost works of art and bring them to the world,” Bekkerman said. “For me, as a Jew, there is a sense of fulfillment in bringing to light these wonderful paintings by important Russian Jewish artists, preserved for posterity thanks to Peremen’s unique vision.”

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