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Artists’ Records Abound at Russian Art Auctions

The Sotheby’s sales of Russian art on April 15-16 totaled $46.4 million, down slightly from the $50.1 million realized last year (ANL, 5/1/07).

NEW YORK—The Sotheby’s sales of Russian art on April 15-16 totaled $46.4 million, down slightly from the $50.1 million realized last year (ANL, 5/1/07). Overall, five works achieved more than $1 million each, and records were set for 16 artists.

At Christie’s sale of Russian art on April 18, the house realized $17.6 million. Fine art accounted for just under a third of the lots. Of 294 works on offer, 86 percent, or 253, found buyers. The auction was also 86 percent sold by value.

Sotheby’s offered slightly more lots this year, 539 compared with 515, but there was a drop in the percentage and value of lots sold. A total of 386, or 71.6 percent, of the offerings found buyers, while the auction was 76.3 percent sold by value. (Sell-through rates last April were 80 percent by lot, 86 percent by value.)

The morning session of the sale on April 15 was devoted to 19th- and 20th-century paintings, while the afternoon session, the first of its kind in New York, highlighted postwar and contemporary art. Sotheby’s previous sale of contemporary Russian art, in London last March, made $8.1 million, compared with New York’s $5.7 million total (ANL, 4/1/08).

The highest price of $3.06 million was given for an 1881 painting, Birch Grove (estimate: $2/3 million), by Arkhip Kuindzhi (1842-1910), who studied under Ivan Aivazovsky. The figure was a record for the artist, far outstripping the previous record of $394,000 for his landscape Paysage russe, which sold at French auctioneer Claude Aguttes in late March.

Works by Aivazovsky also figured among the highest lots, though prices stayed largely within presale expectations. A pair of 1892 paintings, Distributing Supplies and The Relief Ship, brought $2.4 million (estimate: $2/3 million), selling to art dealer Joseph Friedman on behalf of a private collector.

Aivazovsky Seascape Lands $1.7M

A maritime painting by Aivazovsky, The Arrival of Columbus’ Flotilla, 1880, fetched $1.7 million (estimate: $1.2/2 million). His 1888 picture Ship at Sea, 1888, modestly exceeded the $900,000 high estimate to clinch a final price of $937,000.

The River Oyat, 1883, a landscape by Vasili Polenov (1844-1927), loped past its $800,000 high estimate to take $1.4 million; and View of Venice, Customs House, circa 1876, by Alexei Bogoliubov, won $1.04 million, comfortably above the $900,000 high estimate.

Among the surprises at the April 16 auction was a rare, circa 1900 Fabergé icon of Christ Pantocrator, by Johan Victor Aarne, St. Petersburg. The work soared to $780,200, more than five times the $150,000 high estimate.

Of the postwar Russian artworks, the highest price was the $445,000 given for a complete album by Ilya Kabakov (b. 1933), of “Flying Komarov,” 1978, containing 32 original drawings (estimate: $200,000/250,000).

Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid’s three-panel Composition with Missiles (Landscape Inspired by Rothko), 1985-86, made $289,000, nearly double the high estimate of $150,000.

Also among the postwar and contemporary records, albeit in lower price ranges, was the $337,000 (estimate: $120,000/160,000) paid for City with Moon (Socialist City), a 1959 painting by Oscar Rabin (b. 1928); and the $265,000 (estimate: $60,000/80,000) given for Evgeny Rukhin’s Da Nyet, 1975, in mixed media on canvas.

At Christie’s, the top price of $3.2 million (estimate: $1/1.4 million) was given for The Forest Clearing, an 1896 oil by Ivan Shishkin (1832-1898) that the house deemed “one of the most important late works by the artist.”

The second highest artwork was a tempera on panel by Nikolai Roerich (1874-1947), that brought $769,000 against an estimated $200,000/300,000. Work by Roerich figured prominently in the sale, including a group of ten pastels, drawings and other sketches that were consigned by the Rose Art Museum of Brandeis University, with the proceeds earmarked for its acquisition fund. All the works on offer found buyers, most for prices that far exceeded expectations.

Among the highest of these was a tempera on board from the Sketch for Ladoga Series, 1918, that soared past its $40,000/60,000 estimate to bring $385,000. Tulola Valley, 1918 (estimate: $60,000/70,000), brought $265,000. In total, the works realized more than $2 million, exceeding presale estimates.

Among the decorative works that fetched strong prices was A Silver-Gilt and Cloisonné Enamel Punch Set, marked with an Imperial warrant (estimate: $200,000/300,000) that more than tripled expectations to bring $959,400. A Silver-Gilt and Cloisonné Enamel Vodka Set, 1896-1908, leaped past the $70,000/90,000 estimate to bring $769,000.

A large, jeweled, carved Nephrite Model of an Elephant by Fabergé, circa 1900, was also among the sale’s top lots, realizing $601,000 (estimate: $300,000/500,000).

However, the highest-priced painting in the sale, Aleksander Iakovlev’s Loge de Théâtre à Pékin, 1918, a rare work from the artist’s “Chinese Theatre” series that was estimated at $1.8/2.5 million, failed to find a buyer.

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