Notes from Russian Week in London

According to Simon Hewitt, the recent Russian Week sales were up 2.6% from November, with totals moving from 35m GBP to 26m GBP.  The leap, however, was entirely due to the staggering 9.2m GBP paid for a Petrov-Vodkin still life which counted for more than 25% of all Russian works sold this season (1200 lots).

Sales figure chart from Russian Art & Culture.

Sales figure chart from Russian Art & Culture.

Though buy-in rates averaged at 39%, they were sharply reduced at Christie’s this season, falling from 35% last season to 25% this month.  Christie’s rose to the head of the pack, surpassing the other houses by virtue of the sale of the Petrov-Vodkin.

While the market appears to have slow but steady growth, these figures are not the full picture. There is certainly demand for works of exceptional quality and rarity, and pre-2008 prices are occasionally realized, but all the houses have difficulty finding exceptional high-value consignments of sufficient rarity and provenance to attract buyers. In addition, these figures largely reflect paintings sales, and do not give a full picture of the Russian market, as no special attention is paid to decorative arts.  

This season, the highlights of the decorative arts sections were two pieces of exceptionally rare Fabergé miniature furnishings.  One, an empire style chair after designs by Klenze and created by workmaster Michael Perchin which had been offered before at Sotheby’s.  The second was an exceptional Louis XVI style miniature table a ecrire in the manner of Weisweiler, also created by Perchin before 1899 formerly in the Forbes Collection.  Both lots were withdrawn before the sale with no official explanation.

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As a result, the Fabergé win of the season went to Bonham’s, whose collection of hardstone animals fetched six-figure prices which were amongst the season’s highest.  Other items of note were a Ruckert Kovsh at Christies. Silver held steady as it has in the past few seasons, but there was an encouraging boost in early Soviet porcelain which appears to be of interest to collectors again, when the piece is of exceptional rarity and condition.

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