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Russian Art-Week Sales Total $48 Million in London, Half 2008

By John Varoli

June 12 (Bloomberg) -- Three auction houses in London sold 29.1 million pounds ($48 million) of Russian art this week, half the total of last year, as sellers held back and prices fell.

Still, the sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s International and MacDougall’s finished within presale estimates in what dealers said was still a success after a year of economic crisis.

“The Russian market is down from its peak a year ago, but this week’s results show the worse is behind us,” said William MacDougall, co-chairman of MacDougall’s.

A year ago, the sales totaled 63.5 million pounds. Since then, the price of oil, on which the Russian economy is heavily dependent, has fallen by more than 50 percent, and the Russian ruble has dropped against major currencies.

The sales included 19th-century paintings, Russian and Ukrainian postwar and contemporary art, Imperial vases, Faberge works, silver, porcelain, and Orthodox church icons. Ukrainian collectors were among the most vocal bidders and won some of the top lots of the week.

Yesterday, MacDougall’s sold 7.1 million pounds of Russian paintings, passing the presale low estimate of 6.5 million pounds. On Monday it sold 500,000 pounds worth of Orthodox icons. In June 2008, it sold 12.5 million pounds of Russian art.

MacDougall’s top lot yesterday was Ilya Repin’s “Portrait of Madame Alisa Rivoir” (1914), which fetched 1.4 million pounds, beating a top estimate of 1.2 million pounds. The second most expensive lot was Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin’s, “Maternity,” (1922), which sold for 1.07 million pounds. Its low estimate was 1.1 million pounds. Both were records for these artists at auction.

Ukrainian Collector

“I bought both these paintings because I love art, and thanks to the grace of God I have the means to buy them,” Alina Aivazova, a Ukrainian collector, who attended the auction, said in an interview.

Sotheby’s this week sold 17.7 million pounds of Russian art, beating the low presale estimate of 15 million pounds. Its June 2008 London sale of Russian netted 39.7 million pounds.

Sotheby’s sold the most expensive artwork of this week, “The Village Fair” (1920), by Boris Kustodiev. It went to a phone bidder for 2.8 million pounds, more than a top estimate of 1.5 million pounds, and a record for the artist at auction. A pair of mid-19th century Imperial vases sold for 2.6 million pounds, more than a top estimate of 1.8 million pounds.

Sotheby’s evening auction of top paintings on June 8 sold only 17 out of 27 lots, or 63 percent of the total.

‘New Reality’

“These are more challenging times,” said Mark Poltimore, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Europe. “At a recalibrated level the market is operating well, in the new reality, demonstrated by the solid result for our Russian sales.”

On June 9, Christie’s sold 128 out of 198 lots, or 65 percent of the total and grossing 4 million pounds, beating a low presale estimate of 3.3 million pounds. In June 2008 Christie’s sold 11.3 million pounds of Russian art.

Christie’s top lot was Vasili Shukhaev’s modernist “A Finnish Village” (1920), which sold to a Ukrainian collector for 690,000 pounds. It had a top estimate of 500,000 pounds.

In addition to the 29.1 million pounds total at the other auction houses, Bonhams held a sale on June 8. It declined to give a total sales figure. Its top lot, “Repose at Sunset” (1922) by Konstantin Somov, didn’t sell on a low estimate of 500,000 pounds.

(John Varoli writes for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: John Varoli in London at jvaroli@gmail.com.

Last Updated: June 12, 2009 05:07 EDT

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