Art vs politics at London auctions of Russian paintings

Tue Nov 25, 2014 6:19am EST
 
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By Anastasia Gorelova

LONDON (Reuters) - Paintings vied with politics in London this week as two of the biggest auction houses, Christie's and Sotheby's, competed with each other to cater to the hard-to-predict market for Russian art masterpieces.

Art had the upper hand at Christie's sale on Monday, where Valentin Serov's "Portrait of Maria Zetlin" sold for a stunning 9.2 million pounds ($14.42 million), besting several times over its high pre-sale estimate of 2.5 million pounds.

But politics clouded sales at rival powerhouse Sotheby's later on Monday, where only 30 percent of works on offer were sold and pre-sale favorite "Ivan Susanin" by Konstantin Makovsky - also valued at 2.5 million pounds - found no buyer.

Experts at both auction houses interpreted the results against the background of Western economic sanctions on Russia over Moscow's annexation of Crimea and its support for armed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

"The success of the sale shows that Russian art is still in a high demand and that Russian buying activity is at an even higher level than last November, when the auction totaled 16.5 million pounds," said Sarah Mansfield, the head of the Russian art department at Christie's in London.

The Christie's auction brought in more than 20 million pounds, despite concerns about reduced investor appetite due to Western sanctions imposed on Russia's economy.

The outlook was less upbeat at Sotheby's, whose auction raised only 5 million pounds in total and another pre-sale favorite, Boris Kustodiev's "Bakhchisarai", fetched 1.05 million pounds rather than the estimated 1.2-1.8 million pounds.

"There is no doubt that the geopolitics of the region are causing a little bit of a tremor in our Russian market," said Mark Poltimore, the deputy chair of Sotheby's Europe.   Continued...