Art Deco bronze and ivory dancers inspired by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and other exotic themes have been racing up the price scale in recent months. The reason is rouble power.
These pieces have been discovered by Russian collectors and
their determination to secure them, coupled with some deep pockets,
have sent values soaring. It is not a phenomenon limited to any one
country, either. The effect can be seen around the world as a
recent slew of record prices illustrates.
"There is an undercurrent of Russian buying that has changed the
playing field. It is not people who were buying in this market
before," says Jeremy Morrison, Sotheby's head of decorative arts in
London. "It's a totally different group who are buying in other
He reckons the first major signs emerged in New York a couple of
years ago and values have kept on rising.
In March the German auctioneers Nagel of Stuttgart offered a
single-owner collection of 17 figures, the best of which were
secured by a Russian buyer in the room whose purchases included the
multi estimate €220,000 (£157,140) spent on the 183/4in (47.5cm)
high Chiparus figure Almeria. But this price was eclipsed three
weeks later on April 17 when Sotheby's offered a separately
catalogued sale of just 12 lots of Chiparus models consigned by an
American vendor to their New York rooms.
All sold and bullish estimates were more than matched on several
occasions culminating in a $3.47m total and a new auction high for
Chiparus of $800,000 (£400,000) for the five figure group Les
This month it was London that experienced soaring bronze and ivory
prices to the material benefit of the auctioneers' Decorative Arts
sale totals. A single-owner collection of 19 bronze and ivory
figures at Sotheby's on May 2 drew the Russians out in force with
further competition over the phone and plenty of multi-estimate
prices led by £72,000 for a 17in (43cm) version of Claire Jeanne
Colinet's most celebrated model, Ankara Dancer.
But even higher figures were reached two days later at Christie's.
A larger 2ft 1in (63cm) high Ankara Dancer shown here realised
£120,000 as did a 2ft 5in (79cm) version of Chiparus' Starfish
Dancer while Russian Dancers, a 163/4in (42cm) Chiparus pair based
on the Ballets Russes' performers Nijinksy and Ida Rubenstein,
climbed to £90,000.
Russian interest may have initiated the price hike but the demand
is broader based now. "There are other wealthy players who have
identified that the market is moving", says Morrison. Christie's
Ankara and Starfish Dancer, for example, were both carried off by a
South American collector.
And just like the property market, as values for the most
expensive sculptures get more expensive, buyers start appreciating
the merits of the next rung down the ladder. There was evidence in
London last week that the demand has moved to less exotic subjects
by artists like Preiss and Philippe.
By Anne Crane
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