By Mary Mullaj
Testing the waters of the Russian art market, the first major auctions of Russian art since the financial crisis will take place this week. Four London auction houses will seek to sell more than $133.8 million worth of paintings, Faberge items, Orthodox icons, silver and porcelein. Unusual items include a silver beer stein given to Buffalo Bill by Grand Prince Giorgii in 1889, czarist era military swords, and a silver tureen made in the form of a warship, probably for Catherine the Great.
Russians still have money to invest, and while many options may look risky these days, paintings do not go into default. Additionally, “Russian collectors have not been so hard hit by the financial crisis as collectors in the West,” stated Alexander Ivanov of the Russian National Museum. Those whose finances do remain strong might see this as a good moment to improve their collections.
MacDougall Arts Ltd., which sells only Russian paintings and has two auctions a year (the last of which was disappointing) has the biggest lineup, with larger estimates than Sotheby’s and Christie’s. The top lot is a group of 122 ink drawings done by modernist painter Konstantin Somov, estimated to bring in up to $4.6 million. Sotheby’s offers 100 lots from a royal collection, that includes Faberge nephrite ornaments, hardstone animals, and enamel pictures fraomes. Its top lot is a 1845 work by Ivan Aivazocsky “View of Constantinople and the Boshorus,” with a high estimate of $4.6 million. The house said its estimate for the week’s total 668 lots are in excess of $46 million. Christie’s most expensive lot is a painting by Natalia Goncharova “Still Life with Watermelons,” while the total estimate for all of its 447 lots over four days is up to $41 million. After recent let downs at New York auctins, tt will be interesting to see whether Russian art buyers live up to expectations.