Columbus, Asian themes top weaker Russian art sale

Wed Apr 22, 2009 11:30pm EDT
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By Walker Simon

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - A painting of Christopher Columbus on his maiden voyage to the New World was the top seller at Sotheby's Russian art auction but overall sales were weakened by the economic climate.

"Columbus sailing from Palos," painted by Ivan Aivazovsky, fetched $1.594 million. The auction also produced a record for Sviatoslav Roerich, whose "Three Boddisatvas, Circa 1920s," sold for $262,500, more than triple its estimate.

Total sales of $13.8 million at Wednesday's auction shrank to barely a quarter of the $46.5 million at last year's event. While the auction fell within total estimates, only 200 of the 308 lots sold.

But Sotheby's underscored that nine out of the top 10 selling art works topped estimates, sparking spirited bidding and considerable competition.

"It was the first test of the (Russian art selling) season," said Sotheby Russian experts Sonya Bekkerman and Gerard Hill in a statement.

"Certainly the market is selective (but) it's clear the market for Russian art remains buoyant."

In past years, Russian millionaires fueled a Russian art boom, which sent prices for paintings as high as $60 million.

But for 2009, Sotheby's priced most items at around an average of 30 percent below 2008, expecting more discriminating buyers, said Scott Niichel of Sotheby's.   Continued...

<p>An undated handout shows "Columbus sailing from Palos," by Ivan Aivazovsky, an oil on canvas dated 1892. REUTERS/Sotheby's/Handout</p>