Many observers are confused as to why the Russian art week in London was so successful when the two most important markets for those works—Russia and Ukraine—are burdened with political and economic turmoil. John Helmer spoke with William MacDougall whose eponymous auction house accounts for 25% of the market in Russian art:
“Nearly all the Russian buying was by Russians living in Russia, rather than in the West. There was some encouraging interest and buying by Ukrainians resident in Ukraine; in the past they have been an important part of the market, so it is good to see they are still here in spite of the country’s economic difficulties. Also, Moscow collectors are selling to other Moscow collectors via the London auction market; there is turnover.”
Christie’s reports that 74% of the buyers at its auction were Russians. “We are starting to see more Russian interest in paintings”, observes Sarah Mansfield at Christie’s. At Sotheby’s, Asquith said that 75% of the buyers were “from Russia or the CIS.”
Meanwhile the sellers were mostly from the West:
Most of the sellers of these works turn out to be Americans or Europeans (German, Dutch, French, Swiss), who came by their paintings from emigration or tours of duty at embassies in Moscow.
One of the sellers in the Christie’s auction was the art gallery of Vassar College, in the US. It is selling Russian works which were originally paid for and donated by Frederick Thomson, founder of the bank which these days is Citibank. The Vassar trustees are swapping out of Russian into something else.
According to Sotheby’s, about 40% of its works came from Russian sellers, 60% non-Russians.
Russian Art Market On Fire (Business Insider)