The results have come in on this November’s Russian art auctions in London.
MacDougall’s finished their auctions first, and saw 60% of lots go unsold. The sale made a total of $7.68 million, falling short of a presale estimate of nearly $18 million. Antiques Trade Gazette reported that, “in terms of picture sales only MacDougall’s, with a premium-inclusive total of £8.1m, just outsold Christie’s for the second time running.” Overall, however, Christies fared slightly better, selling %55 of their lots. The sale made $16.2 million, well below the low estimate of $28 million. Natalia Goncharova’s Still Life with Watermelons was the top lot, selling for $2.3 million . Even extremely hip painters like Goncharova, however, are not immune to the slowing of the market. Another of her paintings at the sale, Abstract Composition with Palate, did not sell.
Sotheby’s Russian Art Evening sale was fairly successful. Jo Vickery, the head of Sotheby’s Russian department gave a summary of the results: “Given the current state of the economic climate, we are very pleased with the total achieved for this evening’s auction which fell just short of its low estimate of £17 million. Eight new artist records were established and 30% of the buyers in the sale were not only new to Sotheby’s but also came from the CIS, which is extremely encouraging and demonstrates that there continues to be an active market for Russian Art. Works by Roerich performed particularly well and high quality paintings by the blue-chip 19th- and early 20th-century Russian artists, such as Konchalovsky, Polenov and Larionov continue to be in demand.”
Alexander Tabalov, a collector from Kiev told Bloomberg News, “The poor results […] were due to very high estimates and the fact that the market is waiting. Some potential buyers are waiting for prices to go down.” Ivan Samarine, a dealer from London told The Daily Telegraph that while high quality works sold well for the most part, results were difficult to predict because, “a lot of potential buyers were waiting to see where prices would settle, and not bidding.” It is clear: buyers are waiting. While some groups, like Hiscox, fear prices will continue to slide, there seems to be a general consensus among auction houses, collectors and dealers that the large numbers of unsold works seen at recent sales do not suggest a lack of ability or will to buy. Unsold paintings are the natural consequence of uncertainty. The auction houses are uncertain of where to place their estimates, and buyers aren’t sure how to buy in this new economic climate. As estimates become more realistic for the current market, and prices become more consistent, buyers will get their bearings and sales may pick back up again quickly. As The Daily Telegraph explained it, the market for Russian art has fallen, but back to earth, not off the deep end; “By the end, London’s Russian art sales had brought £52.8million [$78.4 million], just over half the amount realised a year ago, and back to the more realistic levels of 2006.”