December 1, 2009 / 1:28 PM / 9 years ago

Royal treasures shine at Russia sale, others flop

LONDON (Reuters) - Rediscovered royal treasures from Russia broke records at a London auction late on Monday, but a separate sale of paintings fell well short of estimates.

The Sotheby’s auctions pointed to ongoing uncertainty in a market that has grown virtually from nothing in the last 15 years as newly wealthy Russians and former Soviet tycoons sought to buy back art taken out of the region after the revolution. The sales also underlined the importance of provenance, with imperial links apparently the most desirable of all.

The so-called “Romanov Heirlooms,” which had been lost to posterity for over 90 years before they were discovered in Sweden in 2009, fetched 7.1 million pounds, around seven times expectations.

An auction record for a Faberge cigarette case was set when an imperial jeweled, four-colored gold example went to a private U.S. buyer for 612,000 pounds ($1 million) including premium, nearly six times its pre-sale estimate.

Several other cases smashed the previous auction record of 433,600 pounds set in 2006, including a jeweled, three-color gold work that fetched 601,000 and also went to a bidder from the United States.


Every lot at the auction was sold, making it a rare “white glove sale” for the auctioneer. All but one of the lots on offer sold for amounts in excess of their pre-sale high estimates.

“The extraordinary results of this evening’s sale ... are tributes to the exquisite quality, outstanding provenance and romantic story behind this remarkable collection,” said Olga Vaigatcheva and Darin Bloomquist, Sotheby’s Russian art specialists in charge of the sale.

“Successful buyers in tonight’s sale have, without doubt, acquired a piece of Russian imperial history.” The objects on sale originally belonged to Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna and her late husband Grand Duke Vladimir, brother of Czar Alexander III.

In grave danger after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, the duchess, a renowned socialite, fled Russia and organized for her treasures to be collected. They were deposited at the Swedish Legation in St. Petersburg in two pillow cases.

Less impressive was the evening sale of Russian paintings, which raised 4.1 million pounds, well short of expectations of between 7.8 and 11.1 million pounds.

Despite the disappointing total, Sotheby’s said it set a new auction record for a work by leading 20th century female artist Alexandra Exter, whose bright-colored “Venice” went for 1 million pounds including commission, in line with expectations.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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