Russians no longer rushing to buy art

Thu Nov 27, 2008 7:48am EST
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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Wealthy Russian collectors, one of the main factors behind the recent boom in art prices, appear to be feeling the pinch like everyone else, with a series of Russian sales in London falling well short of expectations.

Gone are the days of 2005 to 2007, when salerooms buzzed with anticipation as Russian buyers fought for precious pieces of their heritage.

This week both Sotheby's and Christie's failed to make their low pre-sale estimates, an increasingly common phenomenon as the global financial crisis catches up with the art market.

At Sotheby's, four sales held from Monday to Wednesday fetched 25.2 million pounds ($37.9 million), compared with expectations of between 29.6-41.4 million pounds.

The auctioneer's reaction appeared to be one of relief that things were not worse rather than disappointment at seeing the Russian art boom coming to an end.

"Our sales of Russian art ... concluded realizing a combined total of 25 million pounds, representing the third highest total for a series of sales in this category at Sotheby's," said Jo Vickery, head of Sotheby's Russian art department.

"Given the current economic climate we are extremely pleased with the total achieved and have sold almost two-thirds of the lots we offered for sale."

She saw ongoing strength in the Russian market, albeit at a "slightly recalibrated level."

At Christie's, the main sale on Wednesday made 7.9 million pounds ($12.2 million), barely half the pre-sale low estimate.   Continued...