June 11, 2010 / 11:54 AM / 9 years ago

Russian art sales "solid", but not spectacular

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Russian art sales in London this week met expectations but failed to match dramatic recent rises in other sectors of the market, particularly impressionist, modern and old masters.

Sotheby’s, Russian specialist auctioneer MacDougall’s and Christie’s all held twice-yearly sales this week, and, with one relatively minor auction to go at MacDougall’s, the overall tally was nearly 43 million pounds ($63 million).

That was in line with pre-sale estimates and slightly higher than the previous series of sales in late 2009 but well short of levels seen as recently as 2008, the end of the boom in Russian art fueled largely by wealthy tycoons grabbing a piece of their country’s heritage.

The ART Report’s latest analysis of the sector estimates that last year, total sales of Russian fine art at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and MacDougall’s fell 47 percent from about $159 million in 2008 to under $84 million in 2009.

Meanwhile records are tumbling in other areas of the market, with two works of art — a Giacometti statue and a Picasso painting — selling for more than $100 million each in 2010.


Sotheby’s led the way this week, raising 22.3 million pounds versus expectations of over 19 million.

It boasted the top lot in London, with “Titi and Naranghe, Daughters of Chief Eki Bondo” by Alexander Yakovlev fetching 2.5 million pounds including buyer’s premium versus a high estimate of 900,000 pounds, excluding premium.

In the works of art sale, a pair of imperial porcelain vases sold for 937,250 pounds, within expectations, and a Faberge flower study realized 481,250, almost double its estimate.

“We are extremely encouraged by the results achieved for this sales series, which demonstrate renewed confidence in the market-place and indicate that overall the market for Russian art is solid,” said Jo Vickery, head of Russian art in London.

MacDougall’s looked like missing its target for the week of over 12 million pounds, having raised 8.4 million pounds with only its works on paper auction to go. That was forecast to fetch around one million pounds more.

The auction house’s top lot was Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani’s “Arsenal Hill at Night,” which fetched 1.1 million pounds. The work hung for many years in the Moscow apartment of Lily Brik, the muse of futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Christie’s raised 11.9 million pounds, and described the market as “buoyant”.

“The sale sent a strong signal (to potential sellers) that demand is high and that knowledgeable buyers from around the world are committed to acquiring works of art,” said Alexis de Tiesenhausen, director of Russian art at Christie’s.

The top price was paid for “Vasya” by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin which sold for 1.8 million pounds versus a pre-sale estimate of 250-350,000 pounds. The portrait of a Russian boy had not been seen in public since 1932.

The auctioneer said that 70 percent of buyers at its Russian sale were European, 22 percent from the Americas, four percent from the Middle East and three percent from Asia.

Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato

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