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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Curator on Egg Hunt Plays for High Stakes

Blackballed in Geneva, stymied at home, Alexander Ivanov is looking toward America in his quest for The Egg.


Two weeks ago in Geneva, Christie's auction house barred Ivanov's two-year-old, privately funded Russian National Museum from bidding for Faberg?'s precious "Winter Egg," due to eleventh-hour doubts about the museum's bank guarantee. Acting as a representative for an anonymous American bidder, Missouri jeweler Gary Hansen outbid two rivals to buy the egg for $5.5 million, according to Christie's.


The museum's Geneva representative will fly empty-handed back into town Wednesday and the egg has flown off in the direction of its nameless buyer.


But hell hath no fury like a curator scorned, and Ivanov's current project is to purchase the egg from its new owner -- if necessary, for as much as $10 million drawn from the museum's "private funds," he said Tuesday. Ivanov would not elaborate on the museum's financial resources except to say it has "strong bonds" with several leading Moscow banks.


Although Christie's will not reveal the name of the buyer, and the buyer may not be willing to sell, Ivanov feels that he can negotiate both points.


"Our goal remains," he said, in a south Moscow office stocked with Faberg? jewelry and security guards. "We want the egg very much."


Reached in St. Louis, Hansen said he would raise the issue with his client immediately, adding that the buyer realized after the auction that the egg "could have gone for considerably more than it sold for."


The auction house would "absolutely" assist the museum in its quest, as it occasionally does when a would-be bidder misses a sale, said Fran?ois Curiel, president of Christie's International, in a phone interview from Geneva.


The decision to exclude the museum was made before the auction, because the museum's letter of credit came from a Russian bank with which Christie's had never dealt, Curiel said.


"We were sorry for Mr. Ivanov. He came all the way here, it's hard to get a visa, plane tickets are expensive," Curiel said. "Of course we would have loved to sell the egg for $8 million," he added. "But we were acting as an agent for the seller, and there was no way" Christie's could accept the Russian bid.


The auction has sold works of art to "some very serious Russian buyers, and it has never been a problem," he added.


Peter Shaffer, a New York art dealer who was outbid in the auction, said he thought the exclusion was prompted by Christie's fears about "all the spurious money appearing in suitcases in London." He added that from what he saw, "Christie's did a poor job of explaining the reasons behind their actions."


Shaffer, who represents A La Vieille Russie art dealership, said he was not familiar with the Russian National Museum, but that they were actively building up their collection. "I know they've been out all over buying Russian art, in Stockholm, in Helsinki, in New York."


Ivanov, still miffed by Christie's rebuff, said: "This was a totally unprecedented event. You don't expect things like that to happen in the West. It's the type of thing that could only happen here in Russia."