Art market

Eighth year of strong Russian art sales in New York

This sales report demonstrates the intense interest in Russian late 19th-century classical paintings, early 20th-century modernist paintings, and Fabergé works


Christie’s and Sotheby’s Russian art sales exceeded their upper estimates, each selling 80% by lot. Even though late 19th-century classical paintings were the top lots in each sale, Fabergé works and early 20th-century modernist paintings dominated the rest of the top ten at each firm. This is the eighth consecutive year that Russian sales have done well.

Sotheby’s “Russian Works of Art” on 16 April made $9.6m, with 292 lots on offer. “Russian Paintings” on 17 April made $41.37m with 223 lots on offer. The $50.97m total fell short of the $50m upper estimate (which excluded premium).

Christie’s 331 lots at the 18 April sale made $19.3m, again slightly short of the upper pre-sale estimate of $19m. While about 80% of consignors at both sales were American, about 80% of buyers were from the former Soviet Union.

Ukrainians outbid the Russians in a fierce battle at Sotheby’s, with the top two lots going to Sergei Tabalov, a Kiev dealer and collector. Mikhail Nesterov’s Vision of St Sergius, when a Child, 1922, sold for $4.3m (est $2m-$3m), a record for the artist at auction. The work is a smaller version of the artist’s 1890 masterpiece in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Konstantin Makovsky’s Happy Arcadia, 1890, sold for $3.4m, almost three times its top estimate, a record for the artist at auction.

Sotheby’s session on 16 April sold 33 out of 38 Fabergé objects, led by a two-inch gold and enamel sweet box in the form of an armchair, which sold for $2.28m (upper est $1.5m).

Russian interest also focused on works by the Paris-based art deco designer Demetre Chiparus, whose bronze dancers were inspired by the early 20th century Ballets Russes. A group of 12 pieces from a private collection made $4.14m with Les Girls (est $800,000-$1m) making $936,000, the highest price ever achieved for a Chiparus work at auction.

Christie’s top lot was Vasily Vereshchagin’s Solomon’s Wall, 1884-85, a painting of Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall. It sold to a Russian for $3.62m, just above its lower estimate of $3m, setting a record for the artist at auction. A Fabergé scent flask in the form of a gnome made for Russian Empress Alexandra sold for $1.38m, four times its upper estimate.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Eighth year strong of New York sales'