Ex-PM Ivanishvili buys rare Pirosmani painting, donates to Georgian museum

  • Niko Pirosmani's painting Arsenal Hill at Night will be sold at the Christie’s auction in London.
Agenda.ge, 2 Jun 2015 - 12:45, Tbilisi,Georgia

Georgia’s former Prime Minister, multi-billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili has purchased a rare painting by iconic Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani for almost $1.5 million USD and donated it to Georgia’s Museum of Fine Arts.

The Georgian tycoon purchased Pirosmani’s painting Arsenal Hill at Night at Christie’s Auction in London yesterday. He paid £962,500 ($1,486,100 USD) for the unique painting, and soon after he announced he would gift the unique painting back to Georgia.

Niko Pirosmani’s Arsenal Hill at Night was donated to the Museum of Arts by decision of Bidzina Ivanishvili and every visitor will be able to see it. [The] Ivanishvili family purchased this canvas for a million and a half USD at Christie’s Auction yesterday,” TV programme 2030, which was founded by the initiative of Ivanishvili, said yesterday.

The painting is believed to be Pirosmani’s most expensive creation. According to Christie’s art experts, the estimated price of Arsenal Hill at Night was in a range between £800,000 and £1,200,000 ($1,250,400 and $1,875,600 USD) and belonged to a private collector before going to auction.

After Ivanishvili purchased the painting he announced: "The painting will be returned to Georgia”.

After news that the Pirosmani painting would be sold at Christie’s Auction, the Georgian public called to being fundraising so the painting could be purchased and returned to Georgia.

It is believed Pirosmani painted Arsenal Hill at Night somewhere in 1907-08.

Arsenal Hill at Night was first sold at auction in 2003. At the Sotheby's Auction, the painting sold for $1.8 million USD.

The painting was sold for a second time at the MacDougall’s Fine Art Auction in London. This time the painting was sold for £1,075,369 ($1,672,542 USD).

Niko Pirosmani, born Pirosmanashvili (1862-1918) was a self-taught artist who invented the primitivism painting style not only thanks to his great talent but also out of poverty. He died in poverty, was never recognized by his countrymen when he was alive, and fame came to him posthumously.

Today Pirosmani is one of Georgia’s most recognised painters. Although he produced an astonishing number of works, only a few have survived mainly due to the negligence of the owners or the closing of the spaces where the works were initially located, such as cellars, tea rooms, and pubs.

He mostly painted his works for taverns and small shops often in exchange for a cheap lunch or a shot of vodka, rather than money.

In 1913, five years before Pirosmani’s death, Georgian artist Ilia Zdanevich took several of Pirosmani's paintings to Moscow for the Target exhibition.

During the Soviet period many Russian artists, writers and public figures purchased Pirosmani’s paintings for their private collections and subsequently taken out of Georgia. Because of this, for a long period of time, Arsenal Hill at Night was believed to be missing.

But as it turned out, Lily Brik, the long term-muse of Russian writer Vladimir Mayakovsky, purchased several paintings including Arsenal Hill at Night from Zdanevich. She gifted the painting to her sister and brother-in-law, French writer Louis Aragon. This was how the painting made its way to France.

Since then the painting went through several anonymous owners.

Meanwhile prior to being owned by Zdanevich, Arsenal Hill at Night belonged to someone named Bayadze, who operated a tavern in Tbilisi. In 1920, poet Kolau Cherniavsky found the painting in a local neighbourhood where Bayadze's bar was located.