Christie’s November Auctions

the-hunter“The Hunter” – Ivan Pokhitonov

Christie’s will be holding two sales of Russian paintings this month. Their Russian Pictures sale will take place on the 26th of November, and another sale of Russian Pictures and Works of Art will be held on the 27th.

The auction will feature work by a number of important Russian Realists including Konstantin Korovin, Vasily Vereshchagin, Ilya Repin, Isaak Levitan, Ivan Aivazovsky, and Ivan Pokhitonov. Pokhitonov is particularly well represented at this sale. The works up for sale were given to their current owner by the artists son. An article published by Art Daily tells us that, ” the group includes intimate portraits of some of the individuals who played an important role in Pokhitonov’s family life, such as Ivan, The Red Army Soldier […] who, according to family legend saved the artist’s life.” Along with these portraits are several beautiful miniature landscapes, including The Hunter (above). In their online catalog, alongside the image of The Hunter, Christie’s provides a short biography, which relates the work to an excerpt from Turgenev’s collection of stories, Hunter’s Sketches. The comparison is very fitting, and a reminder of the common goals of both writers and artists during Russia’s struggle to redefine its national identity in the 19th century. While Russian authors of the 19th century seem to have gained a wider audience in the west than Russian painters of the same period, both authors and artists were driven to greatness in the rush to preserve and reinvigorate their national culture in the wake of a period of rapid westernization.

Other highlights of the auctions include: Vasily Vereshchagin’s – “Anchinjinga, Pandim and other Mountains in the CloudsIsaak Levitan’s, “A Farmhouse by a Lake“, and Sergei Gerasimov’s “Autumn in the Moscow Suburbs.”

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Summer Auction Results

“View From the Terrace, Gurzuf” – Konstantin Korovin

Christie’s and Sotheby’s Russian auctions earlier this June had mixed results. Sotheby’s sold just over $41 million, acceptably between the pre-sale estimate of $36-$52 million. Compared with their successes in recent months – Sotheby’s April auction exceeded its high estimate – the June sale was a change of pace. Fewer bidders attended the sale and fewer lots were bid on competitively. The same was true for Christie’s Russian sale on June 11th which missed its low estimate of $26 million pounds with a total of $22 million. Only 66% of the 298 lots sold.

It’s unclear what’s behind the disappointing results of these auctions. Katya Dolgova, an art dealer in Moscow speculated that Russians are moving on to bigger and better things in the European art market. “Rich Russians aren’t stupid. You can get a Matisse or Monet for two to four million dollars, so why spend that money on a Goncharova?” Cultural pride, however, seems to be an important part of the growing interest in Russian art. An interest in repatriating artwork has been one of the key motivating forces behind this boom. Last year, for example, billionaire Alisher Usmanov purchased the entire collection of Cellist Mstislav Rostpovich and donated it to the Russian government. Could Russian and Ukranian buyers have simply lost interest in their artistic heritage? Why, if European art holds such an appeal to this group of buyers would they have waited until now to focus on collecting it? Other dealers suspect that Christie’s estimates were overly ambitious.

In spite of the mixed overall results of the auctions, some individual pieces sold very well. At Sotheby’s Konstantin Korovin’s View from the Terrace, Gurzuf, sold for  $2,985,217  (well above its high estimate of $1,600,000) and set record for the artist at auction. At Christie’s, Ivan Shishkin’s Mast Pine Forest in Viatka Province sold for $2,761,900, more than double its high estimate of  $1,200,000.

Future auctions will make clear whether the results of these auctions are an anomaly, or the beginning of a trend.

Update:

On June 24th at Christie’s Impressionist and Modern sale, alongside work by Monet and countless other notable European artists, Natalia Goncharova’s Les Fleurs (1912) sold for $10,965,900 to a Russian buyer, setting a record for the artist at auction. The great disappointment of Christie’s auction earlier this June was that Goncharova’s Crucifixion (est. $4,984,500)  failed to sell. Any doubts about the future of this artist, however, have been cleared. The sale of Les Fleurs seems to debunk the speculation by some that Russian buyers are losing interest in Russian work, and turning their attention to European art.  Vladimir Baranoff-Rossine’s The Rhythm also sold very well, fetching $5,383,260 with fees.