Predicting the future requires knowledge of the past and perception of the present. Collecting art requires talent. It is a talent of investing together with analytical skill and intuition, decision making and accurate calculation. Dmitry Solopov, a collector of the Albrecht Dürer’s works, explained Paradise Art how to learn the works of which artists are going to increase in value.

Paradise Art:

Dmitry, can you tell us why Dürer? What has drawn your interest to this artist?

Dmitry Solopov:

Besides the fact that Dürer was a great master of Renaissance, sometimes known as “Leonardo of the North,” I have my special memories – he was the artist I grew around. I began collecting military artifacts in 2010 and came across the engraving dated 1515 called “The Canon.” It has drawn my interest with detailed work and unusual composition. Like all Dürer’s pictures, this one was a riddle. At that time, I also bought a print from the “Apocalypse” series of 16 woodcuts made in 1497-1498. They were printed in 1498 and 1511. That was the beginning.

Paradise Art:

Do you collect the prints made by Dürer personally or is it possible to make one from the original matrix that would consider original too?

Dmitry Solopov:

I think a collector should be interested only in the original prints made by the artist. Moreover, it is impossible to use the original matrix because they are all lost. All Renaissance printmakers (like Rembrandt or Bosch) would wear the plates down. They put a block of wood or a sheet of copper under high-pressure printing press. 500 or 600 impressions could be printed before the wooden blocks broke and copper sheets showed a sign of wear. The “Apocalypse” series from my collection are originals published in 1497 and 1511. There is also a so-called “pre-press” impression or a pilot print made to check before creating the clean copy. You can tell by the print quality (it is incredibly high) and the lack of text on the back.

Paradise Art:

Are you saying those were illustrations? Why would he make engravings anyway?

Dmitry Solopov:

To earn money. Like all artists of that time Dürer worked on commission, he could as well illustrate the books. Back then no one would paint for no reason because of inspiration. Everybody worked for money. Also, engravings were not his first choice. He tried to paint the portraits on canvas, but it was unprofitable – it took him from six to nine months to make a portrait! The oil paint was the most complicated material, the durability of the painting was particularly important that is why the paints were custom made and covered the picture with multiple layers. Therefore, the colors of the Renaissance paintings do not fade, unlike the works by the artists of later ages (for example, Vasily Surikov). So Dürer realized painting didn’t bring any profit and turned to printmaking. At first, his prints reminded lubok (folk woodcut prints); while he created the prints, his wife and his mother sold them at the market. Here’s the cabbage, here’s the carrot, here’s the beer, and here’re Dürer’s engravings. The prints, which were not sold by the end of the day were used to wrap the fish.
“Apocalypse” brought him to a whole new level. After creating the series, he gets valuable commissions that make him a prominent and respectable artist. He focuses on private portrait painting and creation of altarpieces, which bring him good money. He reduces the number of paintings and prints concentrating more on quality, not the quantity.

Paradise Art:

However, we know Dürer’s self-portraits exist. It’s hard to imagine some wealthy merchant from Nuremberg would commission an artist his self-portrait.

Dmitry Solopov:

Dürer indeed has a record number of self-portraits. We know four of them. I guess the reason is advertising. For example, in 1500 he depicted himself as Jesus Christ with loose hair and sent over the ducal palaces to demonstrate his excellent painting technique. There’s a fifth self-portrait or rather the first one, a pencil drawing he made at the age of 14. It is unbelievable that a teenage boy could draw so finely! It’s incredible!

Paradise Art:

Was Dürer a man of his time? Was he considered a pioneer or was it a usual story of a successful artist?

Dmitry Solopov:

I wouldn’t call him a pioneer. He learned from the Italians and was aware he was a mainstream Renaissance artist. He took printmaking to entirely different level – from folk woodcuts to fine art. He amazed his contemporaries with his technique. German engraving art of the late 1580s represented easy drawings of mainly religious and ordinary everyday scenes. It was Dürer who added a philosophical aspect to his works. Take his “Melancholia” imbued with various symbols. Which as well appears to be one of the elements of, so to say, his “personal brand.” The point is, in his time melancholic people were considered having a vivid imagination (like painters and poets). According to some of the art experts, the print expresses author’s personality that makes it another self-portrait if you like. The “philosophisity” of the engravings can be viewed as innovation. Dürer inspired German art for many years after his death. But generally, the Italians has already done everything regarding the Renaissance ideology, although I think the philosophy of their paintings was not profound enough.

Paradise Art:

You said, the art of Renaissance was either utilitarian and aimed at commissioner’s needs or ideological. But starting from the late 19th century the idea of art for art’s sake is spreading. Was it also a trend?

Dmitry Solopov:

The idea of art for art’s sake was introduced by the artists, who, technically, didn’t know how to draw. Let’s take Impressionist painters. They were not accepted to the Academy of Arts. The Academy couldn’t understand how to perceive, for instance, Cézanne. The same happened in Russia to Peredvizhniki (The Wanderers). The Academy couldn’t place Karl Bryullov, who studied in Italy in a row with Ivan Shishkin. However, both Impressionists and Peredvizhniki were very fortunate to find their collectors and buyers. In France, those were newly rich bourgeois who needed to build their reputation and the frivolity of the free-spirit artists suited them perfectly, since they got already tired of the classic painting. The same thing happened to the Russian Peredvizhniki. The new bourgeoisie liked this kind of art. Ilya Repin, for example, was commissioned to depict the ceremonial meeting of the State Council in 1901 and the portrait of the young tsar Nicholas II.

Pavel Tretyakov was a visionary in this regard. He had foreseen what would be valued in the future. His investments say much about who of the artists worth. Say, he bought just a few works by Shishkin and Surikov and purchased 80% of all the Vereschagin paintings and wanted more on credit, but the artist would sell only for cash.

Paradise Art:

You are saying, buyers and collectors define the art trends. What are the trends nowadays? What is on demand?

Dmitry Solopov:

As usual, it is classic and contemporary art. The first one means significant investments in the assets expected to increase in value in the next 20 years; the second one is typical venture capital. It is an attempt to buy a future masterpiece. The potential gains are immense, but it’s risky as any similar investment. An excellent art historian Grigory Kozlov gave me an explanation. I asked, why Mark Rothko is worth $30 million. What’s so special about him? He replied: “When you can’t buy Leonardo or Dürer or Raphael, you are looking for an opportunity to buy a masterpiece just-in-time.” Even a small work by Leonardo costs half a million already, Gustav Klimt costs $120 million, comparing to them Rothko is relatively cheap. The price results from the fact that many art collectors bet he will be Leonardo da Vinci in 200 years. In fact, the record prices directly relate to timeline.

By the way, Dürer was the one setting the world auction record for the engraving. At the recent New York auction his “Rhinoceros” was sold for almost a million dollars. For a piece of paper!

Do you have artworks of comparable value in your collection?

Dmitry Solopov:

No, my works are less expensive. The average price runs into dozens of thousands. But there are some that cost more than a hundred.

Paradise Art:

How do you buy art pieces? Do you have a fund for buying Dürer? Or do you buy as a result of futures trading?

Dmitry Solopov:

I am a very conservative person: I have a collection fund, exchange fund, and reserve accumulation. I am not an oligarch. I have limited financial resources. So, I set the goal and achieve it. It took me five years to collect all 16 prints from the “Apocalypse” series. Now I have a new goal – to collect ten most famous Dürer’s prints: “Knight, Death and the Devil,” “Saint Jerome in His Study,” “The Prodigal Son,” “Rhinoceros” and others…

Paradise Art:

Why have you decided to bring the essential part of your collection to Nizhny Novgorod? 

Dmitry Solopov:

I love to show these works where people want to see them. The public of the big cities is a bit spoiled, but the regional exhibition is always a big hit. People are more open and less snobbish. That is why I agreed with the Nizhny Novgorod State Museum of Art to exhibit my collection. Although I’m not fond of “peredvizhniki,” the idea of traveling exhibitions sounds very appealing to me, and I’m willing to promote this kind of projects.

Paradise Art:

How is popular collecting art in Russia?

Dmitry Solopov:

Besides aesthetical pleasure and learning the history, collecting art is one of the best investments and a perfect way to build up a reputation. In this regard, I would like to found a club for collectors of military artifacts, paintings, and prints. There are many people in our country willing to invest. Starting from the 16th century, the war was the subject for the 80% of fine art paintings and graphics. The club would embrace all kind of members collecting either 19th-century objects or the Northern Renaissance, like myself, or contemporary art. But they all would be united by a single theme. I assume we would arrange traveling exhibitions in different regions of the country.

Author: Gershon Kogan, 30.05.2018

Syuzanna Kamara

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