“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.
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.