Colin Gleadell noticed a mini-boom in works by Ivan Aivazovsky during the Russian sales in London. The painter of romantic seascapes went seven for eight at auction. But the most surprising result was in area that has yet to gain market traction:Continue Reading
Just when it looked like the market for Nikolai Roerich’s work was fading after a few lackluster sales this week, Bonhams puts the Russian-American mystical painter’s work back on the map with a powerful £7.9m sale in London. Part of the auction house’s £12.38m sale of Russian art, Madonna Laboris sold to a bidder on the telephone to set a new world record for the artist.
The lost masterpiece Madonna Laboris was always known to exist but its whereabouts had remained a mystery until it was rediscovered by Bonhams experts in a private collection in the U.S.A.
‘Madonna Laboris’ depicts the story from an apocryphal gospel which captured Roerich’s artistic imagination. In the transcendental heights above earth is Heaven, at the gate of which stands the Apostle Peter. Peter was disturbed and said to the Lord God: ‘All day long I watch the gates of Paradise; I do not let anyone in, yet in the morning there are newcomers in Paradise.’ And the Lord said: ‘Let us make the rounds at night, Peter.’ So they went in the night and they saw the Holy Virgin lowering along the wall her snow-white scarf, up which souls were climbing. Peter took this to heart and wanted to interfere, but the Lord whispered: “Shh… let be…” (Nicholas Roerich, To Womanhood, 1931).
A second world record was set by The Child Musicians by Alexander Volkov (1886-1957) which surpassed expectations selling for £2,057,250 to a buyer on the telephone after a lengthy battle with bidders in the saleroom. The painting is from the period which the artist described as his ‘return to realism’ and is considered to be one of his most important pictures of this period.
We’re feeling a little guilty about having overlooked last month’s Russian art week in London. The lack of action—and our own distraction with other non-art matters—made it hard to generate enthusiasm. Luckily, Georgina Adam is indefatigable. She sums up the sales in the Financial Times:
Last month’s sales of Russian art also showed some cooling. Sotheby’s May 28 session made £10m, with an anaemic sell-through rate of 65.8 per cent; last year the equivalent sale totalled more than £14m. Christie’s on the same day made £8.3m – down from the £10m it earned in 2011. Specialist auctioneer MacDougall’s had an even tougher time, only selling 44 per cent of its Important Russian Art sale, garnering £9.3m. But William MacDougall was upbeat. “It was not our strongest week but, none the less, it was reasonable; works on paper did well and we achieved three world records,” he said.
Repression, says Reuters. That’s the simple answer given by some of the pioneers of Russia’s Contemporary art market to the question why a recession-plagued West has a vibrant art market and a commodity-rich country like Russia cannot support its own. Russia’s political climate has caused 1.25m persons to emigrate. Many of those are the wealthiest and continue to collect art but in London and they buy Western, not Russian, artists’ work:
“These collectors who left en masse, they are people who saw that not only is there a suffocating situation but that it will continue for a minimum of six years,” gallery owner Marat Gelman said, referring to Putin’s return to the Kremlin for a third term. “They are not seeing their future in Russia.”
Gelman was at the forefront of a movement to pioneer Moscow’s first contemporary galleries in the 1990s, setting up his Gelman gallery alongside the Aidan and XL galleries to cater to the rich and famous seeking trophies of their wealth.
But those trailblazers now say their regulars have largely left Russia, leaving their luxury market in the hands of rich bureaucrats, who neither want to draw attention to their wealth or spend on art that is often critical of the Kremlin.
“When the richest people are bureaucrats – deputy ministers, the children of governors, the wives of mayors – then these people are ashamed of their wealth,” Gelman said. “They would rather buy some expensive yacht far from everyone.”
In a bow to the inevitable, Sotheby’s will no longer hold its Russian paintings sales in New York due to fading market interest. After all, the majority of Russian expatriates live in London or Continental Europe and few Americans have shown interest in Russia’s compelling history of painting.
Sotheby’s auction house has decided to stop selling paintings by Russian artists in New York due to fading interest in Russian painters in the States. From now on, Russian paintings will only be auctioned in London twice a year.
The decision was announced Thursday by Sonya Bekkerman, the head of Sotheby’s Russian Paintings department at the opening of the auction house’s Moscow display. The US branch will focus only on applied art from Russia, as this genre still interests not only Russian but American art collectors.
The failure of Russian collectors to become interested in Contemporary art may also have had an effect here too. Unlike China, Russian art is both connected to and distinct from Europe’s art history. These works should have a global appeal. Yet they don’t.