NEW YORK—Sotheby’s first combined fine and decorative Russian art sale here on April 21 produced a record $35.2 million, far surpassing the estimate of $15.6/22.2 million.
“This venture of combining sales of paintings and works of art and developing the Russian market in New York shows the overall strength and widespread international demand for great Russian works of art,” state Sonya Bekkerman and Gerard Hill, Sotheby’s experts in Russian paintings, Fabergé and works of art. “These factors have led to the most successful Russian sale to date worldwide.”
Peter Schaffer, owner of A La Vieille Russie, New York, says that while there are a number of “serious buyers” in the market, there is also a considerable amount of speculative buying fueled by newly wealthy Russian collectors, resulting in somewhat uneven prices. He notes that “some of the high prices are for things that are worth it, while other high prices are seen at the bottom end of the line,” where they are not necessarily merited.
Fine art was a strong component of the sale, with 83 percent of 356 lots finding buyers. The highlight was an 8-by-13-foot painting by Konstantin Egorovich Makovsky (1839-1915), The Judgment of Paris, 1889, that brought $2.1 million, nearly double the $1.l million high estimate. The painting, which had earned the artist a gold medal at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair, was fresh to the market, having been in the collection of the Pabst Brewing Company for 80 years before being consigned to Sotheby’s, and the price set an auction record for the artist.
A 3-by-4-foot painting by Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947), She Who Leads, which had been consigned by a New York collector, fetched $688,000 (estimate: $200,000/300,000)—the same amount earned by Zinaida Evgenievna Serebriakova (1884-1967) for her Portrait of Vera Fokine (estimate: $200,000/300,000), setting an auction record for the artist. Many of the Russian artists featured in the sale were well-traveled, painting scenes of Italy and France and reflecting in their works the influences of those countries.
A picture by Boris Dmitrievich Grigoriev (1886-1939), Sailors at a Café, was part of a series of paintings the artist executed while sojourning in France. Estimated at $200,000/300,000, it earned $1.6 million, a record at auction for a Grigoriev work.
The top price achieved at the sale was $3.9 million for an 1825 pair of porcelain palace vases, each painted with an Italianate landscape (estimate: $500,000/800,000). The vases were consigned by an unidentified New York museum. Other decorative pieces that fetched top figures: an 1848 30-piece silver tea set that sold for $1.8 million (estimate: $200,000/300,000); and four circa-1910 Fabergé stone-carved Russian figures that carried an estimate of $400,000/800,000 and realized prices ranging from $856,000/1.8 million each. The Fabergé figurines had been consigned by the Charles Wood Foundation, Glens Falls, N.Y.
While most lots on offer found buyers, 58 did not, and some of these clearly were disappointments to the auction house. One, a painting by Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Le Village, carried a $400,000/500,000 estimate but was bought in, as were two sculptures by Cubist Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964)—one estimated at $200,000/300,000, the second at $250,000/300,000. Another work, Sisters, by Alexei Alexeevich Harlamoff (1842-1915), was estimated at $350,000-500,000.