Alexander Rodchenko - Photographs New York Tuesday, April 4, 2023 | Phillips
  • Alexander Rodchenko produced the original photomontage which served as the basis for the present photograph as an illustration for Russian Futurist writer Vladimir Mayakovsky’s poem Pro Eto. Et I mne (About This. To Her and Me). Mayakovsky’s poem concerned his tumultuous love affair with Lilya Brik, a writer, actor, artist, and wife of his publisher Osip Brik. The poem was initially published in 1923 in the avant-garde arts periodical LEF. Shortly thereafter it was published in a standalone volume that featured eight photomontage illustrations by Rodchenko. As evidenced by the present image, Rodchenko’s photomontages for Pro Eto are both playful and dynamic. As in this image, Rodchenko repeatedly included images of Brik and Mayakovsky. Here, Brik’s face and piercing eyes dominate the left side of the frame, behind a dog-headed man, while Mayakovsky appears in the upper right, his body slanted at Constructivist angle and accompanied by a polar bear.


    Cover of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s Pro Eto. Et I mne with Rodchenko’s portrait of Lily Brik

    Lots 283 through 303 in the present auction come from the collection of Rosa and Aaron Esman. The Esmans assembled an outstanding collection of Modern, Post-War, and Contemporary art and photography over the course of their seventy-year marriage. The collection’s highlights mirror that of Rosa’s career as a gallerist and art book publisher (which Aaron, a psychoanalyst, strongly supported), with interests in Modernism, Dada, Russian Constructivism, and American Pop Art taking center stage. Rosa got her start publishing artists’ books of prints in the 1960s, including the New York Ten Portfolio, 1965, and Ten for Leo Castelli, 1967, which featured works by rising contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg, and helped pioneer the field of artist’s editions and multiples. Her eponymous gallery exhibited in Manhattan for over twenty years, and she was a founding partner of Ubu Gallery, which is still in operation today.


    When asked about her wide artistic tastes in 2009, Rosa emphasized her love of drawing, ‘the quintessential bit of the art,’ which can be seen across her and Aaron’s collection, regardless of genre. The importance of her and Aaron’s relationship to Rosa’s development as a consummate supporter of the arts, too, was paramount. The pair bonded over gallery visits when dating in the late 1940s, and bought their first artwork, a drawing by Miró, together; these early experiences with Aaron, more than anything else, established Rosa’s love for art. In her gallery days, Aaron’s passion for art helped decide which works stayed with the couple, too. Rosa recalled: ‘sometimes we look at something, and I say, “Oh, isn’t that marvelous?”’ and Aaron would respond, ‘It’s for us.’ Founded on lifelong love, the Collection of Rosa and Aaron Esman gives a unique vision of the art movements of the 20th century that shaped New York’s art scene.

    • Provenance

      Collection of Norman Gershman, New York
      Sotheby's, New York, 12 November 1985, lot 224

    • Literature

      Lavrentiev, Alexander, Alexander Rodchenko: Photography, 1924-1954, p. 47, pl. 31 (photomontage for the book About This by Vladimir Mayakovsky) (variant, mirrored)

Property from the Collection of Rosa and Aaron Esman


Illustration from Vladimir Mayakovsky's 'Pro Eto. Et I mne'

Gelatin silver print after a photomontage, printed 1930s.
6 1/2 x 4 1/4 in. (16.5 x 10.8 cm)
Signed in the negative; annotated in Cyrillic in an unidentified hand in pencil on the verso.

Full Cataloguing

$6,000 - 8,000 

Sold for $7,620

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 4 April 2023