Scaled down Russian art sales to test appetite

Fri Jun 5, 2009 10:51am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Pared-down Russian art sales in London next week will test of the strength of the market, and more particularly the appetite of super-wealthy buyers from the former Soviet Union, amid global economic turmoil.

Russian buyers were instrumental in sending values for rare works of all categories of art soaring in recent years, and their interest has helped underpin the weakening fine art market since the recession struck.

Next week Sotheby's and Christie's hold "mid-season" sales of Russian and Ukrainian art, and the pre-auction estimates underline how much the market has shrunk in the last 12 months.

Sotheby's in London holds a series of sales centering around the evening auction on Monday and expects to raise 15-22 million pounds ($24-35 million) overall, compared with pre-sale estimates of 29-41 million pounds at the same time in 2008.

The actual amount raised in June 2008 was 39.7 million pounds, including buyer's premium.

Jo Vickery, head of the Russian art department in London, acknowledged that the economic and political background this year was "so different" from last, but added:

"Collecting is a passion, and we've concentrated particularly in this collection on works that have come out of private collections and are fresh to the market.

"In Russian art, we're still re-discovering works that were lost and are now coming to the market for the first time," she told Reuters at Sotheby's showrooms, where the works to be auctioned were on display.   Continued...

<p>A general exterior view of Sotheby's auction house on New Bond Street in London February 15, 2007. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty</p>