Russian art: a tidal wave in April



Between 2005 and 2008 the number of Russian artists generating 7-figure USD sums at auctions dramatically increased as wealthy collectors exercised a new appetite for a body of work that was relatively cheap compared with the stratospheric prices being fetched by European art. In price terms, the primary beneficiary of this new focus on Russian art during the last decade was 19th century Russian art. After an increase of 473% between 1998 and 2008, prices contracted 37% with the crisis (January 2008 – January 2010). For their Russian Art sales in April 2010, rather than betting on more 7-figure results, Christie’s and Sotheby’s have decided to offer a vast range of works by well-known artists with low estimates not exceeding $400,000.

Between 21 and 23 April 2010, the two market leaders will be offering 600 lots of Russian art in New York. Aside from the icons and objects offered as part of these thematic sales, a number of paintings from the end-19th / beginning-20th century will be hotly contested.
The proceedings will commence at Sotheby’s on 21 April with a massive 359 lots including a number of paintings by the avant-garde Ukrainian artist, Pavel TCHELITCHEW, from the collection of the American actress Ruth Ford (one of which is a portrait of the actress-collector herself, estimated at $150,000 – $200,000) and 86 works by the same artist from the Yakov Pereman collection. The latter collection, estimated at $1.5 – $2m, is presented in a separate catalogue.
Apart from this impressive collection of paintings with distinctly cubist and fauvist accents, the star signatures of the sale include Nathalie GONTCHAROVA, Stanislaw ZUKOWSKI, Nicolas KALMAKOFF, Vasilij Ivanovic SUCHAEV, Anna Aleksandrovna LEPORSKAJA, Vladimir Davidovic BARANOV-ROSSINÉ, Alexander Evgenevich IACOVLEFF and Yuri Ivanovich PIMENOV for whom Sotheby’s is expecting a new auction record. If it fetches within its estimated range of $250,000 – $350,000, Pimenov’s Morning Windows would outclass Rainy Day which sold for the equivalent of $213,300 on 15 March 2007 in Stockholm.
Very much in vogue in recent years, Natalia Goncharova’s Still life with fish and Flowers should reach its low estimate of $300,000. In fact, on the Russian art podium, Goncharova currently holds third place behind Wassily KANDINSKY (Fugue, $19m, 17/05/1990, Sotheby’s) and Marc CHAGALL (Anniversaire, $13.5m, 17/05/1990, Sotheby’s). Unlike her two compatriots, she didn’t need the speculative bubble of 1990 to reach her 7-figure record which dates from June 2008 when her highly colourful painting – Les fleurs – fetched £4.9m ($9.6m) at Christie’s in London. Indeed, Natalia Goncharova’s price index has been extremely effervescent since 2006, year in which her total revenue exceeded her combined total for the previous seven years! In four years her prices have risen 84% and 2010 has already started in the same vein with the sale on 2 February 2010 of an Espagnole with Cubist-futurist accents that fetched the equivalent of $9m at Christie’s Impressionist & Modern Art sale in London).
Among the five works by Alexandre Iacovleff, the oil painting Portrait of a Man is announced at $100,000 and $150,000. Alexandre Iacovleff’s price index has posted one of the best progressions of the decade. Even after the market correction, his index shows a 1062% increase since 1990! The acceleration was particularly strong in 2005 when a painting representing a bird’s eye view of a Nigerian village (View of Zinder, Niger) fetched five times its estimate at £550,000 (30/11/2005 at Christie’s). And then 5 times the estimate again in June 2007 when his portrait of Vasilii Shukhaev generated a new record of $3.5m (>$4.9m) at Christie’s in London. Certain works will clearly test the market’s recovery such as Vichy, a painting by Konstantin A. KOROVIN estimated at between $300,000 and $500,000. The work suffered the full impact of the price deflation during the autumn of 2008 when it fetched just half its low estimate at $250,000 (5 November 2008, Sotheby’s). The sale will also test the market resistance of Vladimir Davidovich Baranov-Rossiné whose last six works offered at auctions in 2009 were all bought in. His Cubist nude entitled La Femme nue debout is estimated at $100,000 – $150,000.

At Christie’s, the star lot is signed Konstantin Egorovic MAKOVSKIJ. One of the most sought-after Russian painters from the 19th century, the artist’s index shot up 853% in just one decade (1999-2009) before dropping 72% as the art market deflated and Russian fortunes shrank. On 23 April, Christie’s will be offering a portrait of a young woman, In from a stroll, estimated at $400,000 – $600,000. This price range corresponds to the prices this type of subject would have fetched in 2006. His last result above $200,000 goes back to November 2008 when a portrait The young Boyarina fetched £145,000, (€216,485), at Sotheby’s in London (24/11/2008). Apart from the aesthetic qualities of the elegant women represented in In from a stroll, the painting’s origins also add substantial value to the work. Originating from a private collection, it has not changed hands since 1955.