Sotheby's Russian Art Sale Reaps $35M

bloombergThe auction beat all expectations.
NEW YORK -- The first combined sale of Russian paintings and works of art at Sotheby's in New York earned $35,167,720, making it the most successful auction of Russian art in history.

Led by a pair of 1825 porcelain vases and rare works of Faberge, the auction earned considerably more than the total pre-sale estimate of $15 million to $22 million. It was Sotheby's second-most lucrative auction so far this year, trailing only a ?37.6 million ($71.98 million) sale of Impressionist and modern art in London in February.

"Prices have been high, very high," said Alexander Ivanov, director of the Russian National Museum, a group of private Russian art collectors from Moscow who are among the leading buyers of Faberge works.

Russia's growing number of wealthy entrepreneurs are fueling the recent boom in prices for Russian paintings and works of art. While three of the top 10 lots were bought by private Russian collectors, the six anonymous buyers on that list are also believed to be their countrymen.

"Interest in Russian art has been steadily increasing in the post-Soviet period as the art becomes better known to Western buyers, and as we see Russian buyers with the means to participate in the market," said Sotheby's Gerard Hill, an expert in Russian paintings and works of art.

Seven of the 356 lots made more than $1 million, including three early 20th-century Faberge hardstone figures sold by the Charles R. Wood Foundation in Glens Falls, New York.

"We didn't buy any of the four Faberge figures, but we bought a number of paintings and a lot of other Faberge pieces today," said Ivanov. Among his purchases was the painting "Tobogganing" (1935) by Soviet impressionist Fedot Sychkov, purchased for $228,000, a record for the artist, versus a pre-sale top estimate of $80,000.

Ivanov said his group was motivated by "patriotism," and sought to repatriate works to Russia. A few oil barons are rumored to be among members of the Russian National Museum.

There is growing indication that not all art purchased by Russians abroad is returning home, however. A number of collectors, who wished not to be quoted, said they keep only a minority of their collections in Russia, while many works are kept in residences abroad for security reasons and due to political instability.

"To say Russian art is returning to Russia is not correct," said Anastasia Starovoitova, co-director of ASKI-Art, a consulting firm in Paris that specializes in Russian art. "It's more correct to say that these works are returning to Russian owners, and these people have houses all over the world."