THE latest round of Russian art sales in London put in a consistent performance as auctioneers’ totals again benefited from a series of £1m-plus prices. Demand, however, remained selective with selling rates noticeably patchy.
The overall hammer total for the auctions last week, conducted
by four firms, was £39.1m, marginally up on the £36m seen for the
equivalent series last year and the December sales which came in at
Although the market has yet to recover to the peak levels seen
in June 2008, when the Russian series made more than £46m,
outstanding prices are still emerging for the top lots.
Christie's (25/20/12% buyer's premium) achieved
their highest ever price for a work in a specialist Russian sale
when £4m was bid on June 6 for Ilya Repin's (1844-1930) painting
A Parisian Café.
It more than doubled the previous high for the artist, selling
on the phone against a room bidder, and overscored the £3.3m for
Konstantin Somov's The Rainbow at Christie's in June 2007
- their previous record in a Russian sale.
Although MacDougall's hold the highest price for a work in a
Russian sale (Nikolai Fechin's The Little Cowboy made
£5.8m last December), the record for a Russian picture overall is
held by Kasimir Malevich's 1916 Suprematist Composition,
which took $53.5m (£32.7m) at Sotheby's New York in November 2008.
The artist is considered a Russian artist but of Ukrainian
A Parisian Café was a 4ft x 6ft 4in (1.21 x 1.91m) oil
on canvas from 1875 which showed the influence of Western art on
Repin, who was based in the French capital at the time. It had been
acquired in 1916 by the European vendor's grandfather, who was a
friend of the artist.
Regarded as one of the most important works by a Russian artist
in this period and offered completely fresh to the market, the
estimate was a hefty £3m-5m, but a decent competition emerged on
the day after it drew considerable interest at viewings both in
London and Moscow.
The sale also offered seven preparatory sketches for this
painting, one of which took £90,000.
Overall, Christie's 327-lot sale, which included works of art as
well as pictures, came in at £9.77m hammer, with 191 lots (58 per
cent) finding buyers.
Sotheby's (25/20/12% buyer's premium) 55-lot
Important Russian Art evening sale on the same day achieved a
£11.9m hammer total from 36 lots (65 per cent). The best Repin on
offer here was a portrait of the artist's wife, which made a
low-estimate £1m and sold to a Russian private buyer.
The auction was led by Vasily Vereschagin's (1842-1904) The
Taj Mahal, Evening, which also set an artist's record, selling
to an unnamed buyer on the phone at £2m.
Drawing bidding from four interested parties against a
£250,000-450,000 estimate, it was one of a group of works at the
sale by Vereschagin and was deemed among the best paintings to come
out of his trip to India from 1874 to 1876.
Sotheby's saw a further £2.71m provided by their Russian
paintings day sale and £3.29m from their works of art, Fabergé and
Meanwhile, MacDougall's (25/20/12% buyer's
premium) Russian Classic Art sale on June 8 made a £7.25m
hammer total. Here, too, a painting entered the million-pound
bracket as Boris Kustodiev's (1878-1927) Portrait of Irina
Kustodiva from 1911 made £1.5m against a £1.2m-1.8m
Further contributions from their sales of Russian Contemporary
art, works on paper and works of art took MacDougall's total for
the week to £8.48m.
Bonhams (20/12% buyer's premium) also held a
Russian sale on June 8 offering a mixture of pictures and objects.
It made a £2.95m total and saw a top price of £220,000 for the
picture The appeal of Minin to the people of Nizhni
Novgorod by Konstantin Egorovich Makovsky (1839-1915).
By Alex Capon
works of art meet mixed reaction