NEW YORK—Sales of Russian art at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in London, held late last month, rose to a new high as wealthy Russian buyers continued to fuel rising prices for objects ranging from Fabergé eggs and 19th- and 20th-century paintings and miniatures to books, manuscripts, icons and artifacts. Sotheby’s posted £38.7 million ($79.9 million), its highest total for a series of Russian art auctions to date, while Christie’s tallied £44.9 million ($92.5 million), also a record.
Sotheby’s first-ever evening sale of Russian art on Nov. 26 realized £25.7 million ($53.1 million) for 55 works. Of these, 43, or 78 percent, found buyers. The top-selling work was Natalia Goncharova’s Bluebells, circa 1909, which fetched £3 million, or $6.3 million (estimate: £3/5 million). Russian private buyers dominated the top end of the sale, and artists’ records were set for Konstantin Makovsky (£2 million, or $4.2 million), Nikolai Roerich (£1.75 million, or $3.6 million) and Aristarkh Lentulov (£1.7 million, or $3.5 million).
Jo Vickery, Sotheby’s senior director and head of Russian art, noted that “the Russian art market has finally come of age and is now fully recognized in the international art market.” Citing 12 auction records achieved at the evening sale alone, Vickery said there’s a sense that the market is “still evolving. . . . We can feel confident that it remains in a state of active growth.”
The highest totals at Christie’s were for Russian works of art (£13.3 million, or $27.4 million) and Russian pictures, including a group of works by Konstantin Somov (£25.8 million, or $53.2 million). Alexis de Tiesenhausen, international head of Russian art at Christie’s, called the auctions “the most comprehensive series of Russian art sales in our company history. . . . We have seen strong and spirited bidding throughout the week, in particular for works of exceptional quality that are fresh to the market [with] appealing estimates.”
Russian collector and former secret service officer Aleksandr Ivanov acquired the top lot at the works of art sale, the Rothschild Fabergé Egg, for £8.98 million, or $18.5 million (estimate: £6/9 million), after what Christie’s described as a “tense” 10-minute bidding battle. According to Christie’s experts, the work is the only example of Imperial Russian standards that has remained under ownership in the same family since its commission circa 1902. Ivanov reportedly acquired the work together with an undisclosed partner. The price is the highest ever given for a Fabergé work at auction.
The highlight of the Russian pictures auction was the record £2.3 million ($4.7 million) paid for Iurii Annenkov’s Portrait of Aleksander Tikhonov, 1922. This was followed by the £1.6 million ($3.2 million) won for Somov’s The Romantic Pursuit, 1935. The group of Somov works were said to be some of the last works by the artist in private hands. De Tiesenhausen said their performance at auction “best represents the appetite of international collectors for market-fresh works.” All 52 were sold, taking £6.3 million ($13 million) in total.