Colin Gleadell’s eye caught these Russian portraits that were sold at prices far in excess of their estimates. So he did a little digging and found out someone wanted the whole group of works very, very much:
Their appeal to a sense of Russian pride was enhanced by a prestigious provenance: the portraits were acquired in the Twenties by Prince Serge Obolensky, and passed down through his family.
Nothing by Borovikovsky had sold for more than £70,000 at auction, so Christie’s estimated these examples at about £50,000 each, although another portrait by Borovikovsky, owned by the Russian cellist Rostropovich, had been valued by Sotheby’s for a sale in 2007 at £400,000. Before that sale, however, the whole collection was bought by the Russian billionaire and part-owner of Arsenal football club, Alisher Usmanov, who gave it to the Russian state, so there is no record of the price it made. In the event, last week, Christie’s was swamped with bids. One of the group portraits sold for £3 million, and the five paintings, estimated at £210,000, sold for £8 million – all to the same anonymous phone bidder.