As buyers took the chance the chance to swipe a glitzy stocking-filler in time for Christmas, the latest Russian sales in London showed that there is still plenty of money to be made in this sector, despite the downturn.
In all, seven Russian auctions were held last week at Sotheby's,
Christie's and MacDougall's (all 25/20/12% buyer's premium). They
raised a combined £31m hammer - no small fry for any market but
below presale expectations of £40m-55m.
This was down on the total for the equivalent sales last year,
but this winter series performed better than the sales in June.
Nevertheless, buyers were again cautious and there was none of
the carefree spending of the boom years with the notable exception
of Sotheby's£5.83m sell-out auction of Romanov
heirlooms on November 30.
Here, bling, provenance and a hefty dollop of romance was
offered in spades at the sale entitled Romanov Heirlooms: The
Lost Inheritance of the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna.
The room was packed with bidders from Russia, America, Asia,
Europe and the Middle East eager to get their hands on a Fabergé
cigarette case or a pair of cufflinks, gilded with a romantic
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, wife of Grand Duke Vladimir, the
brother of Tsar Alexander III, was known as the 'Queen of St
Petersburg' in pre-Revolutionary Imperial Russia, but revolution
forced her to move to France in 1920, where she died soon
However in 1918, a Professor Bergholz had arrived at the Swedish
Legation in Petrograd with two pillowcases, hastily stuffed with
cigarette cases and cufflinks, which he deposited there on behalf
of the Grand Duchess Vladimir. They remained in the safe hands of
the Swedish Diplomatic Service and, although forgotten, were
discovered in the secure care of the Swedish Foreign Office in
Stockholm in January of this year.
The 110 lots of 'lost inheritance' offered at Sotheby's were
being sold by the descendants of the Grand Duchess and excited
feisty bidding both in the room and on 60 phone lines, with every
lot sold for a total of £5,83m, well over a £600,000-900,000
Nominal estimates were disregarded - the first lot, a silver
cigarette case bearing an enamelled portrait of Emperor Alexander
II, estimated at £3000-5000, set the tone of the sale by selling
But this paled in comparison to the highest price of the sale. A
Fabergé Imperial jewelled four-colour gold cigarette case made in
1899 for the Duke and Duchess' 25th wedding anniversary, pictured
here, which set a new auction record for a Fabergé cigarette case
by selling to a private American buyer for £510,000, ten times the
And the two cotton pillowcases? They made a mere £4800 and £3800
A more sober atmosphere prevailed at Sotheby's Russian Art
evening sale which followed immediately after the Romanov
extravaganza. Bidding here was selective as 17 of the 36 lots
failed to sell and the sold-by-value rate was only 46 per cent.
The hammer total was £3.45m, with the top lot being Alexander
Exter's (1884-1949) abstract Venice that sold on low
estimate at £900,000 to a Russian private buyer.
Unusually, the auctioneers made more from their 167-lot day sale
on December 1 which totalled £3.51m, while Sotheby's mixed-owner
Russian works of art sale raised a further £3.12m.
Meanwhile, Christie's offered paintings, works
of art and jewellery over two days on December 1-2. They raised
£7.31m from 277 lots with a 70 per cent take-up. The 79-lot picture
section performed slightly better, achieving an 80 per cent selling
Their highest price of £850,000 went to Nicholas Roerich's
(1874-1947) Legend from 1923, estimated at
MacDougall's raised the highest total for a Russian paintings
sale in the series when their 391-lot auction on December 3 made
£6.86m hammer, although they sold only half the lots on offer.
Their top lot was also by Nicholas Roerich whose
Sangacheling sold for £950,000 against a £500,000-700,000
estimate. It was the highest price of the series.
William MacDougall said: "The Russian art market has been in
recovery since April. It's not a roaring boom, but a clear recovery
nonetheless. Oil prices are up, the Russian and world economies are
in recovery, and people have to put their money somewhere."
MacDougall's icons sale on December 2 made a £642,850 hammer
By Alex Capon and Anna Brady