The week of Russian art sales that overtook London failed to impress many because the numbers were down from the previous year. But the eagle-eyed Colin Gleadell knows there’s more to a market than the headline number. In this case, it was the presence of Ukrainian buyers:
Here it was notable, in spite of the abject state of the Ukranian economy, how many Ukranian buyers were to the fore. Perhaps they consider art to be the safest place to put their cash – those who have cash to spare, that is.
At Sotheby’s, father and son team Alexandre and Sergei Tabalov, described variously as collectors, dealers, and owners of Ukraine’s newest auction house, Art Kapital in Kiev, were active bidders, and came away with one of the top-selling lots, a colourful Impressionist painting of girls dressed in white gathered around a candlelit piano in the early evening by Nikolai Petrovich Bogdanov-Belsky. The romantic image fetched £349,250.
Ukrainian businessman Andrey Adamovskiy of the Inter-Regional Investment Union, Kiev, bought the top lot at Christie’s, an American modernist-style view of rooftops in a Finnish village, c1920, by Vasilii Shukaev for £690,850, double the low estimate. Adamovskiy, who has kept his collecting under wraps until now, will be exhibiting about 60 19th- and early 20th-century works from his collection at the Kiev Museum of Russian Art later this week.
The most conspicuous Ukrainian buyer was Alina Aivazova, the wife of the mayor of Kiev, who went on a spending spree at MacDougall’s. Aivazova is by all accounts new to art collecting and sat with an art advisor, a huge bear of a man who occasionally restrained her from bidding by putting his ample arm around her.
Nevertheless she bagged most of the highest selling lots, paying record prices in the process. Snapping her fingers in the air, and sometimes keeping her arm raised throughout the bidding (a rare sight these days), she bought a large 1914 painting of a reclining nude by the great Ukrainian realist artist, Ilya Repin, for £1.4 million — above the estimate and far above the previous record for Repin.
A few lots later, she bought a more modern looking, angular portrait of a pregnant women, Maternity, 1922, by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, for a record £1 million. After a brief pause she then accounted for the fourth highest price of the day, buying another turn-of-the century reclining nude, this time by Boris Kustodiev, a student of Repin, for a double estimate £493,438.
The £1.4 million Repin had previously cost just £210,000 in 2002, the Kustodiev £90,000 in 1999, and the Petrov-Vodkin a mere £2,600 in 1994.
Art Sales: Russian Art Boom (Telegraph)