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Uneven Results for Russian Art At New York Spring Auctions

Volume at the spring auctions of Russian art April 21–23 remained even at Sotheby’s but dropped by more than half at Christie’s.

NEW YORK—Volume at the spring auctions of Russian art April 21–23 remained even at Sotheby’s but dropped by more than half at Christie’s. The combined total for the two houses was $18.5million, compared with just over $27million last year (ANL, 5/12/09). Sotheby’s realized $13.6million for three sales held April 21–22, just matching the $13.8million total it realized last year. Officials attributed the result to the quality of work on offer from private collections. Christie’s $4.9million total for its sale on April 23 was down sharply from last year’s $13.2million.

Sotheby’s $3.6million sale on April 21 was led by a group of 86 works of avant-garde Ukrai­nian art from the collection of Yakov Pereman, offered as a single lot. The works sold for $2million to the Foundation for Ukrainian Avant-Garde Art (estimate: $1.5million/2million).

Strong prices were also achieved for works from the collection of siblings Ruth Ford, an actress and model, and Charles Henri Ford, a publisher. Demand at the sale was particularly strong for painting by Charles Ford’s longtime partner Pavel Tchelitchew (1898–1957). The oil on canvas Portrait of Ruth Ford, 1937, soared above its $150,000/200,000 estimate to sell for $986,500, while Tattooed Man, 1934, estimated at $250,000/350,000, fetched $482,500.

Other top sellers by Tchelitchew from the Ford collection included a gouache on paper, Blind Man’s Bluff, 1939, which sold for $314,500 on a $40,000/60,000 estimate, and the oil painting Le Chat Volant, 1956, which sold for $266,500 against an estimate of $35,000/45,000. Sotheby’s officials said the Ford collection was 100 percent sold by lot and brought in a total of $2.9million, more than double the estimate of $885,000/1.24million. Sotheby’s claimed the $314,500 paid for Yuri Pimenov’s oil painting Morning Windows, 1959, as a new auction record for the artist (estimate: $250,000/350,000).

The third private collection from which works were offered was the New York–based estate of Frances H. Jones, which featured Fabergé and works of art that were mostly fresh to the market. The collection accounted for $1.8million of the sale total, well above the combined estimate of $835,000/1.23million. The top lot from the Jones collection was a Fabergé figure of a she-goat carved from striated agate, ca. 1900, which sold for $182,500 against a $15,000/25,000 estimate.

Sonya Bekkerman, head of Russian paintings at Sotheby’s, said the success of the sales “demonstrate an enthusiasm for paintings from distinguished private collections.”

Christie’s sale of Russian art on April 23 offered 252 lots, of which 186, or 74 percent, found buyers. By value the auction was 68 percent sold, but the top prices were modest when compared with those at Sotheby’s. The top lot was an Orientalist painting by Alexander Svedomsky (1848–1911), Returning with the Captives, sold by the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio to benefit its acquisition fund. Estimated at $70,000/100,000, the painting was sold to a private Ukrainian buyer for $170,500.

The same price was paid for The Visit of the Lama, 1933, an oil by Alexandre Iacovleff. Estimated at a much higher $150,000/250,000, the work sold to a European dealer, according to Christie’s. Another work by Iacovleff among the top lots was the oil on paper Femme avec fruits, which nearly doubled the $35,000/45,000 estimate to fetch $86,500.

A Russian dealer bought Camp of the Wander­ers, 1897, a painting by Richard Zommer (1866–1939) estimated at $120,000/180,000, which sold for $140,500. Alexis de Tiesenhausen, Christie’s international head of Russian art, said the Russian paintings “stimulated interest among U.S. and international collectors.”

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