April 17, 2009 / 10:43 PM / 10 years ago

Russian art sales seen down, focus on iconic works

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Economic woes could push down prices of Russian art at sales next week which will include landmark historical works and a jeweled Fabrege flower encrusted with diamonds, according to auction houses.

Photograph shows shows Nicholas Roerich's "The Greatest and Holiest of Tangla" painting from 1929. A tempera on canvas, it is expected to fetch up to $500,000 at Christie's Russian art auction on April 24 in New York. REUTERS/Christie's/Handout

Russian millionaires have fueled a boom for Russian art in recent years, which sent prices for paintings as high as $60 million and the cost of a single Fabrege egg to $18 million.

But Sotheby’s and Christie’s expect sales to be just a fraction of the total they reaped last year.

“Before they could buy across the board at all prices ... they could buy several items,” said James Hastie, chief of Christie’s Russian department.

He suspects some buyers may snap up just a single piece.

Paintings by Nicholas Roerich, a 20th century artist and philosopher, could be a big draw, according to Scott Niichel, a Sotheby’s Russian specialist.

Roerich lived in Tibet for years and founded the Agni Yoga Society, a non-profit education institution.

“To a lot of his followers,” Niichel said, “(his paintings) are spiritual icons.”

Roerich’s works on sale include Himalayan landscapes, some featuring monasteries and Buddhist sculptures. Several works could sell for $500,000 or more.

But Sotheby’s expects “Columbus sailing from Palos,” by Ivan Aivazovsky which depicts the start of the explorer’s 1492 journey to be a top seller, fetching up to $1.5 million.

Painted for the 1893 Chicago world’s fair, it features diffuse early morning sunlight deftly highlighting the crest of waves, low-flying birds and Columbus’ mane of white hair.

Two of the most important works by David Burliuk to come to the market in many years will be a focal point at Christie’s. The paintings by Burliuk, who is regarded as the father of Russian Cubo-Futurism, include “A Headless Barber” and “The Death Rider (The Night Rider)”

“They (the Cubo-Futurists) wanted to break tradition ... and distort,” said Christie’s Jessica Brozyna.

Each of the works is expected to sell for between $300,000 to $500,000.

In addition to paintings the sales will include objects of art such as a glided punch bowl and ladle, a Fabrege silver toilet set and a 1900 gold, nephrite and rock crystal Lilly of the Valley made by Fabrege, favored by imperial royalty.

Suspended from a gold stem, it has seven pearls simulating buds encrusted with roughly 40 diamonds, and it could fetch up to $250,000, according to Mark Moehrke of Christie’s. Depending on the angle, the gems sparkle one at a time.

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