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Nicolas Roerich, And We Continue Fishing, from the “Sancta” series, c. 1922. Source: Courtesy of MacDougall's

Russian Art Week London November 2014: Market Overview 0

Anna Belousova

London’s Russian Art Week is probably the most important series of events dedicated to the Russian art market. The Russian Art Week takes place twice a year in London, during this time the leading auction houses present the top Russian Art and galleries host a number of dedicated exhibitions – all aimed to attract mostly Russian High Net Worth individuals. This auction season was the indicator of the current situation within the Russian art market, which strived to recover after the financial crisis of 2008 and now is impacted by current  political situation and its potential long term influence on  Russian economy. This pressure was aided by multiple factors, including the imposed sanctions and the ruble losing more than 30% of its value over the past year.

This November there were over 1200 lots on offer from the leading auction houses: Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams and MacDougall’s, with healthy total mid estimate of over £77mln. (€97)

Valentin Serov (1865-1911), Portrait of Maria Zetlin (1882-1976). Source: Courtesy of Christie’s

The Week was opened by Christie’s sale consisting of 2 sessions: Russian Paintings (total at £15.4m (€19.4m) and Works of Art including Faberge with total of £4.7m (€5.9m). The auction in total earned £20.1 (€25.4m) incl. buyer’s premium. The top lot sold was the V. Serov’s Portrait of Maria Zetlin that earned £9.2mln. (€11.6m) and established the world records for the artist at auction. This painting appeared on the market for the first time and presented the ideal type of property that collectors are seeking for. Another top lot, Y. Annenkov’s Portrait of Aleksandr Tikhonov, achieved a great result selling within the estimate at £4m (€5m) establishing the world record price for the artist at auction. This is the third time the painting is sold at Christie’s auction, the previous sale was in 2007 where it was acquired by the present owner and now sold again earning about 5% inflation adjusted return. Although this property is not fresh to the market, this sale proves the fact that high quality Russian art has a strong investment potential.

Yuri Annenkov, Portrait of Aleksandr Tikhonov (1880-1956). Source: Courtesy of Christie's

The second session that presented Works of Art including Faberge and Icons did very well by selling over 65% of the lots on offer. The number of highlights from this section including Rock Crystal Study of Cornflower by Faberge sold for £314,500 GBP incl. prem (€386,585) and A Rare Soviet Porcelain Vase sold for  £254,500 incl prem (€320,926) (made 727% of Low Estimate) proved good performance and maturity of this specific market segment where clients are always eager to compete for exceptional lots.

Overall Christie’s November 2014 sale returned 22% more comparing to a Nov 2013. This concludes that Christie’s sales totals continue to grow and contribute to the strength of the Russian Art market.

On the same day, 24th November, Sotheby’s presented its evening sale that earned £4.9m (€6.1). The top lot sold during Sotheby’s evening sale was B. Kustodiev’s Bakhchirasai that went for £1.2m (€1.5m). Social realist works also were on offer this season with top lot G. Nissky’s En route selling for £602,500 (€761,139). V. Vereshchagin’s Portico of a Church sold for £314,500 (€397,308), which returned an adjusted 10% comparing to its last sale at Sotheby’s in 2010. Overall out of 37 lots on offer only 12 found a buyer. The pre-sale top lot was the large canvas by K. Makovsky’s Ivan Susanin estimated at £1.5-2.5m (€1,8 -3,1m) which remained unsold.

Sotheby’s Russian Paintings Day Sale took place the following day on 25 Nov. earning £2.9m (€3.6m) incl.prem.The top lots of this sale were A. Arkhipov’s Home from Market which sold for £278,500 (€351,243) and Three Babas by Philip Maliavin which achieved £362,500 (€547,989).

Contemporary East Sale totalled with £1.1m (€1.3m) incl prem. The second instalment of Contemporary East achieved some outstanding results which included Oleg Vassiliev’s Twilight which sold for £182,500 (€230,168) and £122,500 (€154,496) for The Dive by Georgy Gurianov. Since 2013 Sotheby’s has been holding auctions dedicated to Russian Contemporary  thus contributing to this underdeveloped market category. And although  these sales retuned modest sold rates (30-50%) and volumes in the range of £300.000 and up to £1m (€0,4m-1,3m), the Russian contemporary market remained active.  This year there were even new market participant –Maxim Boxer presented the curated exhibition and auction of contemporary Russian Art in London at Erarta galleries, the prices ranged from £500-£10,000 (€600-12,000). Russian Contemporary Art remains an experimental area of the market that offers an alternative at affordable price levels.

Sotheby’s Works of Art, Faberge and Icons sale on the same day finalised Sotheby’s sales of Russian art this week  and brought in £1.7m (€2.1m) against the low estimate of £1.6m (€2m) with top lot sales of Silver-Gilt Tea and Coffee Service by Ovchinnikov sold for £470,500 (€593,392), A group of twelve miniatures by Henry Benner sold for £218,500 (€275,571) and Imperial presentation cigarette case by Faberge sold for £146,500 (€184,765). The total sales of Russian Art at Sotheby’s brought in £10.7m (€13.5m).

On 26 Nov MacDougall’s and Bonhams held their auctions that finalised the week of the Russian Art sales this November.

Nicholas Roerich The praying stylite (Ecstasy), 1918. Source: Courtesy of Bonhams

MacDougall’s sold over £7.7m incl.prem (€9.7m). The auction house held two sessions, with the first presenting paintings and works on paper and the second  - works of art, Faberge and Icons. The top lots of the first session became N. Roerich’s And We Continue Fishing (1922) that earned £1,2m (€1.5m). Another top sale was Pine Forest or Sukhostoi by Russian landscape painter Ivan Shishkin, was sold for £1,2m (€1.5m).

Bonhams sale totalled £1.7m (€2.1m)against low estimate of £6.2m (€7.8m). The auction was expected to be highlighted by the sale of the N. Roerich’s masterpiece The praying stylite (Ecstasy)', the estimate of this lot was available on request only. During the auction the auctioneer started bidding at £1m going up to £2m, the work remained unsold.

The expectations were that this Roerich would achieve similar result to his Madonna Laboris, which was sold in summer 2013 for a record £7.9m (€9.8m). 11 out of 19 of  N. Roerich’s paintings were offered by Bonhams this season , however only 1 lot from this selection was sold at £22,500 (€28,386).

Overall the sales of the Russian Art in London this November totalled £40.4m (€50.9m) which is minus 21%  comparing to Nov 2013 and almost 40% less than in June 2014. Overall sales in 2014 totalled at £105m (€132m) against £103m (€129m) total of 2013. This season showed the signs of a weaker market in the lower selling rates, however it is important to emphasise the significance of the individual performance and chosen strategy of the market participants.

A jewelled and guilloche enamel gold-mounted back crystal study of cornflower, by Faberge. St. Petersburg, circa 1900. Source: Courtesy of Christie's

Overall the Russian Art this season yet again proved the demand for exceptional, high quality blue chip works. Comparing the market performance for the past 5 years, the market is yet to achieve the levels of £126m (€158m) set in 2008. In 2013 the market increased by 21% whereas this year there is only a modest growth of 3%. In addition to demand for blue chip property with impeccable provenance, another segment of interest is the affordable property on the lower end of the market (up to £20,000, €25,000). In the light of the constantly changing economic situation and challenges presented, there might be further adjustments in the market performance next Russian Art season in the summer 2015.

*Please note that all prices mentioned include Buyer’s Premium.