Reports from the dealers have not come in yet but the results of London’s Russian Art Week sales suggest the art world may have to get used to a new era of greater volatility in sales. This time last year, Russia was still riding high on the price of crude oil and auction sales reached £63.5m.
Last week, the results were £29m or half that figure, though each of the houses save Bonham’s sold within their estimates. Sotheby’s cleared £17.7m; MacDougall’s, the Russian specialist house, made £7.1m; Christie’s raised £4.1m; and Bonham’s preferred not to offer a total figure.
Sotheby’s and Christie’s both had sell-through rates in the 60% range.
Reuters spoke to MacDougall’s head:
“Though it has not yet reached its peak of a year ago, the market is in recovery from it’s winter blues, and some better works are even surpassing their pre-crisis peaks,” said director William MacDougall.
Which was true. Sotheby’s sold a pair of Imperial porcelain vases for £2.6m which was significantly above the £1.8m high estimate. According to Bloomberg:
MacDougall’s top lot […] was Ilya Repin’s “Portrait of Madame Alisa Rivoir” (1914), which fetched 1.4 million pounds, beating a top estimate of 1.2 million pounds. The second most expensive lot was Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin’s, “Maternity,” (1922), which sold for 1.07 million pounds. Its low estimate was 1.1 million pounds. Both were records for these artists at auction.
Christie’s top lot was Vasili Shukhaev’s modernist “A Finnish Village” (1920), which sold to a Ukrainian collector for 690,000 pounds. It had a top estimate of 500,000 pounds. […] Bonhams held a sale on June 8. It declined to give a total sales figure. Its top lot, “Repose at Sunset” (1922) by Konstantin Somov, didn’t sell on a low estimate of 500,000 pounds.
Russian art buyers more picky, UK sales hit target (Reuters/Washington Post)
Russian Art-Week Sales Total $48 Million in London, Half 2008 (Bloomberg)