Swiss auction house hits record in Tsarist Russian sale

Tue Dec 10, 2013 2:07pm EST
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By Robert Evans

GENEVA (Reuters) - A Geneva auction firm specializing in the surging market for pre-1917 Russian cultural objects, paintings and documents said on Tuesday its latest sale had fetched a house record of 3.8 million Swiss francs ($4.25 million).

Top objects auctioned among fierce bidding by buyers from Russia, Europe and the United States included a pair of vases given as a Christmas present in 1849 by Tsar Nicholas I, imperial family letters, and an enameled tobacco box.

"The success of this sale is a demonstration of the huge interest in Russian items from before the Bolshevik Revolution," said Bernard Piguet, director of the Hotel de Ventes auction house since 2005.

Over that time, he has turned the once-ailing business into a major European outlet for Russian objects, especially items closely linked to the Romanov dynasty, which was overthrown in 1917, after which the tsar and his family were killed.

But previous Russian sales had not come close to the total realized at the latest auction, late on Monday night.

The two 66-cm-(26-inch)-high porcelain and bronze vases with reproductions of Dutch paintings on either side, authenticated by St Peterburg's Hermitage Museum, sold for 1.5 million Swiss francs ($1.7 million) each. That was three to five times more than the pre-sale estimate.

Piguet said they had been manufactured in the then-Russian capital's Imperial Workshops as a gift for the Tsar's sister-in-law, Grand Duchess Yelena Pavlovna, and for the past 50 years had been owned by a Swiss collector.

The 230 letters, many recounting innocuous family news but some revealing secrets of state and imperial love affairs, were sold in separate lots for a total of 743,000 Swiss francs ($830,000).   Continued...