The sales of Russian art and works of art commence today at Sotheby’s but expectations are muted by the impact of the credit collapse on the Russian economy. The grand sales of last year where acres of works of art and a wide range of paintings were on offer are a thing of the past. At Sotheby’s, today, the emphasis is on an Aivazovsky seascape of Columbus departing that is one of four known works out of 20 that the Russian painter exhibited at the Columbia exhibition in 1892. Sotheby’s has sold the other three. Some fine enamels and silver with Imperial connections lead the works of art. Paintings by Grigoriev and Burliuk are also being featured in the sale. (Watch the twitter feed in the upper right corner of the site for up-to-the-minute sale reports.)
Even in a down market, though, there are always areas of activity. This season culminates a six-year run in the paintings of Nicholai Roerich, a Russian mystic and set designer who travelled to India and Tibet painting landscapes and the people. His son, Sviatoslav, was also a painter and both Sotheby’s and Christie’s have several works by the two artists.
Sotheby’s most valuable Roerich is an early painting of St. Mercurius of Smolensk. It’s value comes from the fact that few of Roerich’s early works have been on the market. In the past, buyers came to Roerich through an interest in Eastern mysticism. But since the turn of this century and the rise of Russian affluence, four Russian collectors have driven the market forward. It is their interest that brings attention to the earlier works.
Christie’s, on the other hand, has a late portrait of Roerich clad in Tibeten robes painted by his son in 1933. (Detail from the portrait above.) The portrait carries the highest estimate in Christie’s sale which gives a sense of Roerich’s growing importance to the 20th Century Russian paintings market. Christie’s expects institutional buyers to be active in the bidding but anything can happen in a auction.