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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Top Artists Donate Works So Children Can Smile

At Operation Smile, art is for children's sake.

On May 23, the charity holds a fund-raising art auction, and after the final gavel, children with facial deformities will get a new outlook on life.

"We are planning to operate on a lot of kids here in Moscow with the proceeds from this, at least 50, and this is a conservative estimate," said Michele Weyland, the director of Operation Smile in Russia.

This year's auction offers 30 works donated by artists from Moscow and the Moscow region.

"The painters were very generous. They gave us some very good pieces," said Nina Tomczak, who is co-chairing the auction and is also the director of the International Women's Club's art group. Tomczak solicited the contributions and made the final selections with Peter Batkin of Sotheby's, who will be the auctioneer.

Among the prominent artists represented is Natalya Nesterova, who is one of the few living artists profiled in the well-known art reference "Three Centuries of Russian Painting."

"I think people should help each other, and the way I can help is through my painting," Nesterova said.

The work she donated, "Artichoke," is from a period in which she was experimenting with hiding faces; in this canvas a vase of flowers or bowl of fruit obstructs the faces of three people seated at a table that appears suspended in the air. Bids for "Artichoke" are expected to begin at $5,000.

Zurab Tsereteli, notorious for his widely criticized statue of Peter the Great in central Moscow, contributed four pieces: two icons of St. George (enamel on copper) and two bronze models for statues commemorating the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage to America that were built in Seville and Paris.

"The auction is one of the few ways to own a work by Tsereteli, because nothing is for sale at his studio," Tomczak said. "He sells only large, monumental works and he gives his paintings to friends as presents."

The auction catalog lists starting prices for the models at $2,000, and for the icons at $4,000 and $5,000.

Starting prices on the 30 lots, most of them oils on canvas, range from $500 to $8,000. Among the most striking are "Eastern Relief," a reverie on an oriental theme by Olga Bulgakova, who is also featured in "Three Centuries of Russian Painting," and "Flowering of Pinocchio," a riotous vision of the long-nosed character by Dmitry Sandjiev, whose trademark is to make his works appear as if painted on wood.

Other works include a village scene by Grigory Chainikov, a winter landscape by Mikhail Abakumov and one of Andrei Medvedev's enigmatic dolls.

Lavrenty Bruni's bold flowers are splayed across the pages of "A Book," a stark contrast to the philosophical abstraction of Alexander Sitnikov's "Not people -- Beasts." The table of Alexander Borodin's intriguing "Feast" is set with tea and architecture. Oleg Tolstoy, great-grandson of Leo, contemplated Novodevichy Convent in springtime in his canvas, while Leonid Semeiko focused on a tiny window of the Bell Tower of Ivan the Great.

The $250-per-ticket dinner and auction at the Metropol Hotel is sold out. Tim Strong, two-time Grammy Award nominee for best jazz vocals, will perform.

Operation Smile brings together international teams of doctors who operate without pay on children with cleft lip and palate deformities, burn scars, tumors and other facial defects.

Founded in the United States by doctor William Magee and his wife, Kathy, in 1982, Operation Smile is funded mainly through corporate and personal donations. The charity, which operates in 18 countries, has been active in Russia since 1992, operating for the first two years under a USAID grant and later raising funds through auctions.

In five years, more than 1,400 Russian children have been treated.

Weyland said that cleft palate has been a fatal affliction for some Russian children: "Those who are in orphanages sometimes die of starvation because they can't eat properly and they have to be held vertical to be fed."

She said the money raised at this year's auction would be used to operate on Moscow children for whom such surgery is unaffordable, and on children from the provinces who do not have access to such medical care.

Operation Smile also provides training in facial operations with the hope that doctors will continue to do free operations in their home countries. In April, two surgeons from Moscow took part in a three-week seminar in the United States.