ARTnewsletter Archive

Russian Art Auctions Fall Short of Expectations

The Russian art sales held by Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams and MacDougalls in London from June 6–9 registered a disappointing £47.2 million ($77.4 million), including buyer’s premium, against an estimate of £47.7 million/67 million, exclusive of premium.

LONDON–The Russian art sales held by Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams and MacDougalls in London from June 6–9 registered a disappointing £47.2 million ($77.4 million), including buyer’s premium, against an estimate of £47.7 million/67 million, exclusive of premium.

Of all the sales, only Christie’s £11.6 million ($18.9 million) sale (estimate: £9 million/14 million) on June 8 managed to hit its estimate, doing so by keeping lot numbers down—191, or 55 percent, of 327 lots sold—and focusing on the more conservative end of the market. It also had the highest-selling lot of the week, a salon-style painting of fashionable figures outside a Parisian café painted in 1875 by Ilya Repin, which sold for £4.5 million ($7.4 million), compared with an estimate of £3 million/5 million—a record for the artist and for any work sold in a Russian-art sale. A sketchbook for the painting sold for £253,250 ($415,836), on an estimate of £150,000/250,000, to London dealer Jean-Luc Baroni, who was exhibiting Russian art in his gallery with specialist Russian-art dealer Ivan Samarine. Other good prices were the £713,250 ($1.2 million) paid by a private collector for Boris Grigoriev’s The Monk, 1922, (estimate: £300,000/500,000), and the £217,250 ($356,724), against an estimate of £30,000/50,000, given by the CIS trade for Konstantin Korovin’s Café in a French Port. Contemporary art was kept to a minimum, and included several works from the collection of Dionysios Kostakis, grandson of legendary collector George Costakis. Notwithstanding the provenance, a high percentage of these offerings went unsold. Among the buyers was Russian billionaire Alexander Ivanov, the owner of the Fabergé Museum in Baden-Baden, who spent £181,000 ($206,250) on a gold-plated 1882 Imperial service plate that was estimated at £180,000/220,000.

Sotheby’s three sales (June 6–8) realized £21.4 million ($35.1 million), compared with an estimate of £20.2 million/29.2 million, excluding premium. The outstanding results were for a group of seven paintings by Vasily Vereschagin, six of which sold for a total of £3.7 million ($6 million), against an estimate of £1.2 million/1.9 million. His Impressionistic The Taj Mahal, Evening, was the surprise in the pack, selling to a phone bidder for a record £2.3 million ($3.7 million), compared with an estimate of £250,000/450,000. The underbidder, a CIS collector bidding through Sotheby’s department head Jo Vickery, secured three other Vereschagins including On Campaign, 1904, for £481,250 ($789,250,000), against an estimate of £400,000/600,000. Bidding in the room for another CIS collector was Cologne dealer, Alex Lachmann, who bought Alexander Yakovlev’s Opera in Peking, 1918, for £825,250 ($1.4 million) compared with an estimate of £800,000/1.2 million, and Filipp Maliavin’s undated Russian Beauty, for £481,250 ($789,250) against an estimate of £120,000/180,000. Lachmann also picked up one of the few Postwar works in the evening sale, Alexander Laktionov’s photo-realist Visiting My Grandmother, for a £200,000 ($328,000) hammer price, compared with the estimate of £120,000/180,000.

Bonhams offered 374 lots of paintings and works of art on June 8 and sold 231, or 62 percent, for £3.5 million ($5.7 million) with premium, compared with an estimate of £3.5 million/4.5 million without premium. Top lot was Konstantin Makovsky’s epic The Appeal of Minin to the people of Nizhni Novrogod, 1894–96, which sold for £264,000 ($432,960) on an estimate of £100,000/150,000. Among the top-selling works of art was a silver-mounted enamel Fabergé clock, 1898–1903, by Michael Perchin, which sold to Ivanov for £156,000 ($255,840), against an estimate of £60,000/80,000. Ivanov bought about a dozen of the Fabergé lots, spending £500,000 ($820,000) as well as most of the Orthodox icons at the sale for about £180,000 ($295,200), which he will donate to Russian churches.

As in the past, MacDougall’s had the most lots on offer, selling 221 out of 500 for £10.7 million ($17.5 million), against an estimate of £15 million/21.3 million. Classic 19th- and earlier-20th-century paintings made up the bulk of the sale with £9.4 million ($15.4 million) against just £300,000 ($492,000) for Postwar and contemporary works. The remainder was accounted for by sales devoted to icons and works on paper. Top lots were Boris Kustodiev’s Portrait of Irina Kustodiev, 1911, which sold for £1.8 million ($3 million), against an estimate of £1.2 million/1.8 million, and Ivan Shishkin’s The Pine Forest, 1895, which sold for £1.1 million ($1.8 million), compared with an estimate of £800,000/1.2 million.

“As usual, buying was dominated by Russians and Ukrainians—from Moscow and Kiev rather than London,” said codirector William MacDougall. “Some attractive works failed to find buyers at all auction houses; perhaps estimates were too aggressive. Contemporary struggled in particular. But the best works sold well. We were pleased that our four top lots all achieved good prices, and the final result of £10.7 million makes it one of our most successful auctions ever.”

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