ALTHOUGH this summer’s Russian art auctions in London failed to bring the gold rush of previous years, there was some relief in the salerooms that demand did not sink even further.
While the wealthy buyers who have pushed up the market for the
last five years were noticeably cautious about dipping into their
deep pockets, the events last week were not without highlights and
there was some hope aired that the market may have now bottomed
Either way, the formerly bumper auction totals were
significantly depleted. The combined figure for the series stood at
£25.4m hammer, well down on last summer's figure of more than
However, with better news coming out of Russia over the last few
months - the economy being helped by the recovery of both the price
of oil and the value of the rouble, as well as the government's
restructuring of the $500bn of foreign debt owed by rich Russian
businessmen - the auctioneers were able to point to some signs of
Pictures still accounted for the bulk of the money changing
hands, but while a mixed response was seen for the more standard
paintings, a number of the top consignments drew keen interest and
set new record prices.
This was the case with the top lot of the series - Boris
Kustodiev's (1878-1927) oil on canvas The Village Fair,
which sold for £2.5m to an anonymous buyer at Sotheby's
(25/20/12% buyer's premium) June 8 evening sale.
A record £800,000 was also paid at the same event for the
recently rediscovered Isaak Izrailevich Brodsky's (1884-1939)
Nanny with Children, which saw four parties competing for
more than five minutes until it was finally knocked down to an
anonymous telephone bidder.
Offering just 27 lots of which 17 sold, Sotheby's evening sale
raised £6.73m hammer - just shy of the auction's presale low
With a further £3.41m from their Russian paintings day sale and
£3.97m from Russian works of art and icons the following day, as
well as £726,400 from their Russian contemporary art sale on June
10, Sotheby's made £14.8m in total against a combined pre-sale
estimate of £15m-22m.
Outside the pictures, demand for the most glitzy works of art
remained consistently strong. An impressive pair of 4ft 10in
(1,49m) high ormolu and gilded porcelain vases produced by the
Imperial Porcelain Factory sold to a European dealer for £2.3m at
Sotheby's works of art sale.
Painted with reproductions of old masters by Philips Wouvermans,
signed Stoletov and M. Kornilov, and dated 1848,
they belonged to Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich (1917-1992), a
great-grandson of Emperor Alexander II.
Offered for sale by a descendant, they were estimated at
Christie's (25/20/12% buyer's premium) saw a
hammer total of £3.32m for their main Russian sale in King Street
on June 9. Offering both pictures and works of art, 131 of the 198
lots sold, including A Finnish Village, Roofs by Vasilii
Shukhaev (1887-1973), which went to a private buyer for £580,000
and was the highest price of the sale.
Christie's also saw a bidding battle for a Fabergé cloisonné and
enamelled silver-gilt box marked with the Imperial warrant, Moscow
1908-1917, estimated at £50,000-70,000. It sold to a US dealer for
Christie's South Kensington sale on June 11, made another
Specialist Russian art auctioneers MacDougall's
(25/20/12% buyer's premium) took £5.7m hammer for their
281-lot sale on June 11. Against a presale low estimate of £6.5m,
this allowed them to claim to be "the second largest auction house
for Russian Art".
All the major lots got away, including Ilya Repin's (1844-1930)
Portrait of Madame Alisa Rivoir with a Lapdog, which made
a record £1.2m, beating the previous high of £350,000 seen at
Christie's back in November 2006. Petrov Vodkin's (1878-1939)
Maternity went below estimate at £900,000, but that was
still five times the previous high for the artist. Both paintings
were bought by Ukrainian collector Alina Aivazova.
Director William MacDougall said: "Though it has not yet reached
its peak of a year ago, the market is in recovery from its winter
blues, and some better works are even surpassing their pre-crisis
MacDougall's raised a further £403,000 from their first sale of
Icons of the Orthodox World on June 8.
Bonhams' (20/12% buyer's premium) Russian sale
on June 8 made £880,700 hammer.
By Alex Capon