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Twenty-Four Records Set at $95M Russian Sales

Weeklong auctions in London of Russian paintings, sculpture, decorative arts and other Russian collectibles, at the Sotheby’s, Christie’s and MacDougall’s salerooms from June 11-15, amassed a total of £48 million ($95 million), surpassing all expectations and setting 24 records in all—at Sotheby’s, 12; Christie’s, 5; and MacDougall’s, 7.

NEW YORK—Weeklong auctions in London of Russian paintings, sculpture, decorative arts and other Russian collectibles, at the Sotheby’s, Christie’s and MacDougall’s salerooms from June 11-15, amassed a total of £48 million ($95 million), surpassing all expectations and setting 24 records in all—at Sotheby’s, 12; Christie’s, 5; and MacDougall’s, 7.

The market for Russian art has exploded in recent seasons as newly wealthy, often younger Russian buyers fuel the demand for a wide range of works—from Fabergé eggs to 19th-century paintings and contemporary art. Sotheby’s reports that its annual turnover of Russian art has soared twentyfold just in the last six years—from £4 million ($6 million) in 2000 to £82 million ($131.2 million) in 2006.

With major Impressionist, modern and contemporary London sales poised to follow on the heels of the Russian sales, the auction houses hoped to further capitalize on Russian collectors’ growing interest in acquiring Western artworks.

Sotheby’s sale of Russian paintings on June 12 realized £17.7 million ($35 million). Separate sales of Russian books, maps and photographs on June 11 (earning £611,472, or $1.2 million) and a sale of Fabergé and Russian works of art on June 12 (making £5 million, or $9.9 million) further boosted Sotheby’s overall result to £23.35 million ($46.1 million). Still, the total falls below the £29 million ($55.4 million) in Russian art realized at Sotheby’s London last spring (ANL, 6/20/06, pp. 1-2).

Somov Rainbow Fetches $7.3M at Christie’s

Christie’s sale of Russian art on June 13 brought £18.1 million ($35.6 million), nearly double the presale estimate and far higher than its recent Russian art sale in New York, which took $19.3 million (ANL, 5/1/07).

A record for a Russian painting was set when The Rainbow, 1927, by Konstantin Andreevich Somov, captured £3.7 million ($7.3 million).

The sold-by-value rate at both auctions was far higher than the percentage of lots sold. At Christie’s 141, or 61 percent, of 233 lots found buyers, compared with the sale’s 89 percent value rate. At Sotheby’s 357, or 65 percent, of the 548 lots on offer took off. By value the auction was 87 percent sold.

At MacDougall’s, the only house specializing in Russian art, sales on June 15 yielded £6.6 million or $13 million.

Over at Sotheby’s the leader was a painting by Mikhail Fedorovich Larionov, Still Life with Jug and Icon, circa 1910-12, which fell for £2.26 million, or $4.5 million (estimate: £1/1.5 million), to a private Russian collector. Russian buyers dominated the sales, particularly at the top end where all but one of the highest lots were acquired by private Russian collectors, Sotheby’s reports.

Joanna Vickery, head of the Russian art department at Sotheby’s London, says the house is encouraged by the results—“particularly by the paintings section of the auction, where prices appeared for many artists to be on the up.”

Also exceeding estimates was a work by Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev, Picnic, 1920, which sold for £1.25 million, or $2.5 million (estimate: £600,000/800,000), and attracted “unusually fierce bidding,” Vickery says.

Five Korovins Exceed Estimates

The Sotheby’s sale featured six works by Konstantin Alexeevich Korovin (1861-1939); five of these drew prices that far surpassed their estimates. The highest was a 1921 oil on canvas, Still Life with Roses and Fruits, which sold for £804,000, or $1.6 million (estimate: £100,000/150,000). The painting, listed as the property of a “private European collection,” was acquired directly from the artist in Berlin during the 1920s by Alexander Konstantinovsky, a prominent financier who had a hand in building the Trans-Siberian Railway. Around that time Konstantinovsky also acquired the artist’s oil-on-canvas Portrait of a Seated Lady. Estimated at £100,000/150,000, the work took £322,400 ($636,611).

Additional Korovin works on offer included the oil-on-canvas Still Life of Flowers, 1922, which earned £636,000, or $1.3 million (estimate: £200,000/280,000); and the oil View of Monaco, 1922, which took £367,200, or $725,073 (estimate: £200,000/300,000).

The Sotheby’s sale also featured a sampling of more modern and contemporary works—an area, Vickery says, which showed signs of improvement over previous auctions. “Prices for contemporary Russian works were strong,” she adds, “and we saw the lowest unsold rate at auction in this sector, which augurs well for its future growth.”

Prices and estimates were modest compared to those garnered by the more historic Russian artworks in the sale. Among the contemporary works that fared well: Tango V Panamaribo, from the series “Viola and Uncle Ben’s,” 1995, by Konstantin Zvezdochetov, won £14,400, or $28,400 (estimate: £8,000/12,000); and Summer, Studio Window, 1991, by Nikolai Ivanovich Kasatkin, squeaked by its low £10,000 estimate to realize £10,800 ($21,300).

The Christie’s sale marked the first time the house had held a Russian art sale in June, immediately ahead of the major Impressionist, modern and contemporary sales.

Half the highest-selling lots at Christie’s marked new auction records for the respective artists. “More Russian clients than ever before traveled to London to attend the viewing and sale, and a number of the top lots in today’s sale were bought by bidders in the room,” reports Alexis de Tiesenhausen, Christie’s international director of Russian art.

The buyer breakdown for the sale was: Russia, 70%; Europe, including the U.K., 20%; U.S., 5%; and all others, 5%.

Following the record for the Somov painting at Christie’s, the next-highest lot was Portrait of Vasilii Shukhaev in His Studio, 1928, by Aleksandr Evgen’evich Iakovlev, which sold for £2.8 million, or $5.6 million (estimate: £500,000/600,000). A new record was set for Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky when his painting American Shipping Off the Rock of Gibraltar, 1873, captured £2.7 million, or $5.3 million (estimate: £400,000/600,000).

Other records included £1.5 million ($2.9 million) for Night on the Neva, St. Petersburg, 1881 (estimate: £300,000/400,000), by Lev Feliksovich Lagorio; and £916,000, or $1.8 million (estimate: £400,000/500,000), for the 1921 Portrait of Madame Pavlova, by Vasilii Ivanovich Shukhaev.

Strong Sales at MacDougall’s

Among the top lots at MacDougall’s was Birsk Landscape, by Liubov Popova, which sold for £514,130 ($1 million). An artist’s record was set for Marie Vassilieff when Man and Woman sold for £402,000 ($792,059). Among the contemporary works sold, Five Faces, by Oleg Tselkov, brought a record £223,200 ($441,923).

Catherine MacDougall, director of the auction house, notes “unprecedented” interest from buyers. “The Russian contemporary market is booming,” she points out, “and, we believe, will continue to rise as more and more new art collectors are joining in.”

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