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£7m Madonna helps Russian art to reach a five-year high

07 June 2013Written by ATG Reporter

The latest series of Russian art auctions in London set a combined hammer total of £42.7m to make it the most lucrative since the market peaked in June 2008.

All four salerooms staging auctions in this sector saw their events topped by particular paintings that caught the eye of wealthy Russian-speaking private buyers, although the selling rates continued to be generally patchy.

The top lot of the week was Madonna Laboris by Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (1874-1947), a tempera on canvas from 1931 depicting the Virgin Mary at the gates of Paradise, which drew dramatic competition and set a major record for the artist.

Sourced from an American vendor whose grandmother had received it as a gift, it appeared at Bonhams on June 5 estimated at £800,000-1.2m.

With apocryphal stories being key to Roerich's artistic imagination and this picture demonstrating how the artist was inspired by Byzantine art, it attracted bidding well over these levels and was eventually knocked down at £7m to a private buyer on the phone.

This was a truly enormous price considering the artist's previous auction high (according to Artnet) was the premium-inclusive £1.76m seen for Himself Came that sold at Sotheby's in 2007.

The same sale also set a record for Alexander Volkov (1886-1957) when The Child Musicians from 1926 took £1.8m against a £200,000-400,000 pitch. Although a later work by the artist from 1944 entitled Tomato Harvest from the same source was unsold, these two record pictures provided the bulk of the sale's £10.8m total from 262 lots.

Russian art specialists MacDougall's posted an overall hammer total of £7.5m for their sales held last week. Here, a record was set for Ivan Shishkin (1832-98) when the oil-on-canvas Twilight from 1896 took a top-estimate  £1.8m. The buyer was from an ex-Soviet republic while, interestingly, an Italian was among the underbidders. The picture itself depicted a pine forest, a favoured subject for the artist.

Also at MacDougall's was Mikhail Nesterov's (1862-1942) Wayfarers, Beyond the Volga  from 1922 that took £1.5m (estimate £1.4m-3m).

A further auction record last week was the £4.2m seen for Ilya Mashkov's (1881-1944) Still life with fruit which led Christie's 284-lot sale of Russian art on June 3. Dating from 1910, it was originally shown at the inaugural Jack of Diamonds exhibition in Moscow, one of the most significant exhibitions of Russian Avant-Garde pictures.

With the bidding going well over the £1m -1.5m estimate, it was eventually knocked down to a private buyer and provided a very useful contribution to the sale's £10.4m hammer total.

Meanwhile, Sotheby's posted a combined hammer total of £13.9m from their four sales held over the week.

Their evening sale on June 3 was led a painting by Nikolai Fechin (1881-1955), a double portrait of his wife and daughter that made £1.25m from a CIS private buyer against a £500,000-700,000 estimate.

Strong competition was also seen at their day sale of Russian paintings when a gouache portrait by Yuri Pavlovich Annenkov (1889-1974) overshot a £150,000-200,000 estimate and was knocked down at £750,000 also to a CIS private buyer.

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