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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Auction House Looks to Developing Tastes

Russia's first auction house opened its doors to potential buyers Monday in preparation for the biggest sale since art auctions were legalized more than six years ago.

Gelos, a firm of antique and art dealers as well as an auction house , will conduct the sale Feb. 15. More than 130 works of decorative and graphic art will go on the block. The sale will include works by Russian masters, including Valentin Serov, Ivan Aivazovsky, Vasily Polenov and David Burlyuk. Focusing on 19th and 20th century painters, most of the collection has never been displayed in public. The estimated total for the sale is $590,000. Spirited bidding could bring considerably more.

Alexei Zaitsev, deputy general director of Gelos, thinks personal taste here is slowly beginning to take precedence over flamboyance and expensive status symbols. He said Russian buyers at last December's auction at Sotheby's in London reportedly tried to bid against each other to raise the prices but that the trend no longer holds.

"A few years ago we had a decorative arts sale and a famous banker came and said 'I want everything from this corner to that corner wrapped by 2 o'clock tomorrow afternoon.' The next day two OMON guys with machine guns arrived in a truck and they blocked off the whole road so that they could load it. You don't see that any more."

Instead, Zaitsev said, Russian buyers are beginning to develop their own tastes in art, making it easier than in the past for auction houses to sell works that are less famous, and less pricey.

Works such as the Armenian painter Martiros Saryan's "Lights of the Night City" or "The Street of the Eastern City" would have been relatively hard to sell three or four years ago, Zaitsev said. Today, the artist is so popular that two of his works have already been sold ahead of the auction, for about $60,000 each.

Further down the price-scale, works such as Arseny Meshchersky's "Mountain Landscape," estimated at $10,000 to $12,000, would have been more novel in the earlier days of Russian auctions.

Nevertheless, the show's piece de resistance Ivan Aivazovsky's "The Crimean Coast," is popular largely on the basis of its price tag, Zaitsev said.

Depicting two boats on the sea at dusk, the painting will be sold for between $70,000 and $75,000, Gelos estimates, -- an especially hefty sum considering that the artist has more than 6,000 works to his name. "Aivazovsky, Levitan and Shishkin are among the most expensive artists, and for many Russian collectors that's reason enough to buy them," Zaitsev said, indicating that to some extent Russian buyers are still not completely averse to paying high prices.