November 27, 2008 / 12:50 PM / in 9 years

Russians no longer rushing to buy art

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.

With relatively small sales still to come on Thursday, the auction house has raised around 13 million pounds this week, around one third of its tally in the equivalent week in 2007.

Underlining how a weaker art market throws up opportunities for bargains, lot number 333 on Wednesday went under the hammer for 13 pounds including buyer's premium.

The ink-on-paper image of three horses speeding through the countryside dragging a sled had been expected by Christie's to fetch up to 3,000 pounds.

In contrast to a gloomy week in London, earlier this month a painting by avant-garde Russian artist Kazimir Malevich sold in New York for $60 million, shattering records for the artist and any Russian work of art at auction.

Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato

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