London: Russian Art sales recover buoyancy ?



London, with its famous art schools, but above all its attractive economic system, hosts an ever-growing community of Russian oligarchs and the major auction houses (always in unison) organise specialized sales of Russian at the rate of two a year (spring and autumn). However after the peak of 2007, the emergence of authenticity doubts surrounding certain works offered for sale and a marked decline in interest from collectors prompted a substantial drop in the results generated from Russian art. This period now appears to be over, with a more vigorous than ever international art market underpinning soaring prices on practically all categories of Russian art. This autumn, Modern Russian art has benefited, posting a significant recovery in prices. The lots on offer during the Russian week (25 and 28 November) were mainly 19th and 20th century oil paintings.

Sotheby’s also generated a good performance selling 89.3% of the lots at its November 26 evening sale. The Russian Art department was still trying to minimize risk with a careful selection containing only 29 lots, the majority of which were new to the secondary market. Six of these generated new records: Valentin A. SEROV’s Portrait a Praskovia Anatolevna Mamontova sparked a fervent bidding battle and finally sold for nearly $1.7m, twice its high estimate.

Christie’s sold just 65% of its lots at its sale on 26 November which generated two new records. Belonged to the collector and Nobel Prize winner for Physics in 1978, Peter Kapitza, the highly anticipated oil on canvas, Boris Mikhailovich KUSTODIEV’s The Coachman, amply accomplished its mission and dominated the sales. Estimated at £1.5m – £2m, the hammer finally fell at twice the high estimate at £3.9m (nearly $ 6.2 million), by far the artist’s best ever result. The artist Aleksander V. SHEVCHENKO also refreshed his 2007 record by more than five times when his oil on canvas The city outskirts fetched $577,000.

On November 28, Bonhams closed the Russian sales week with a generalist sale that added some 70 works of Fine Art, 61% of which found buyers, to the icons and other art objects. The star of the sale was undoubtedly Franz Alekseevic ROUBAUD’s Circassian charge. The battle scene dominated the sale when it fetched $208,500.

Russian Contemporary art?
Sotheby’s cautiously proposed a small number of Contemporary works. Less sought-after than the Modern segment, the Russian Contemporary works quite were naturally relegated to the day sale on November 27. The mixed results for the Contemporary period included some unexpected buy-ins such as Among Wild Flowers, a rare watercolor by the duo Vladimir & Alexander DUBOSSARSKY & VINOGRADOV, despite its low estimate of £5,000. Master of the Contemporary miniature, Alexander ZAKHAROV created a surprise result when his work – with the evocative title Crime and punishment – fetched £15,000 ($24,000) against a high estimate of £6,000.
Lastly, the photographs offered received a warm reception and generated promising results above their high estimates: Olga CHERNYSHEVA’s From the Series Waiting for a Miracle fetched $7,200 and From the Series the New God’s Fools by the BLUE NOSES GROUP sold for nearly $13,000. Meanwhile Oleg KULIK’s Girl in a Swap from the Fear Series generated a result ten times better than his previous record set in 2009 by finding a buyer at over $25,000.

The results of this week of sales suggest renewed interest in Russian art, with a clearly expressed preference for the widely acknowledged classics of the Modern era. Far from Moscow where the market gloom that has forced many historical galleries to close, London is more than ever the capital of Russian art. In fact, Sotheby’s Russian Art department recently halted sales of Russian art in New York in order to focus its activities in the British capital which is home to about half a million Russian residents. Russian collectors, very active on the international market place (both Modern and Contemporary) always show less interest in their compatriot artists than in the stars of the Western art market. Less bankable, investment in Russian art is riskier… but nevertheless deserves a little more loyal support.