1200 LOTS were offered over a typically hectic three days of Russian sales in London from November 26-28: around 650 pictures and sculptures, plus some 550 works of art.
Most of the top lots found takers as – after a 40% slump last June – overall sales rebounded from £24m to £35m (just short of the £38m they brought in November 2017). Four works accounted for 90% of that increase: a £4.3mMakovsky and a £2.2m Pirosmani at Sotheby’s, a £1.8m Imperial Porcelain vase at Christie’s and a £1.6mKonchalovsky at MacDugall’s.
Sotheby’s Makovsky was his huge Blind Man’s Buff, first exhibited at the St Petersburg Academy in 1900 and crammed with lavishly dressed characters and silverware, furniture and rugs. It cleared a £2-3m estimate to bring £4.29m. Their Pirosmani, Georgian Woman wearing a Lechaki (c.1906), was acquired by Stefan Zweig in the USSR in 1928 and consigned by the State University of New York. Its £2.23m price-tag was triple-estimate.
Two significant works doubled hopes: a Fechin Portrait of a Young Girl (c.1912) at £610,000, and Falk’s 1955 Portrait of Inna Costakis (daughter of George) aged 20, shown at the New Tretyakov’s blockbuster Costakis show in 2014/15 and consigned by Inna herself, at £442,000.
A Repin Portrait of Leo Tolstoy (1916) pulled in an expected £514,000 while Pimenov’s 1929 pencil and gouache Street Scenein Novorossiysk skidded to a triple-estimate £212,500.Three undated works also sold well: a Harlamoff Girl with Flowers at £286,000; a small Garden in Tiraspol by Larionov at £231,000; and a Kuprin Autumn Bouquet at £225,000.
MacDougall’s Konchalovsky depicted a Game of Billiards played at Moscow’s Hotel Metropol in 1918 by Piotr and a waistcoated Aristarkh Lentulov, lining up a shot. It pocketed £1.62m.
A late Repin Portrait of the Violinist Cecilia Hansenat his Repino dacha in 1922 made £457,000. Boris Anisfeld’s large, GauguinesqueGarden of Hesperides (1916), inspired by Greek mythology and shown at the Brooklyn Museum in 1918, rolled to £321,000. Korovin’s Fishing Boats – Gurzuf( 1911), a view from the artist’s seaside villa towards the Adalar Cliffs, doubled estimate on £281,000.
Bonhams led with a Cézannesque 1921 Still Life with Clay Jug by Vasily Rozhdestvensky – the nearest thing Russian Week had to an Avant-Garde masterpiece. This was consigned from the United States and quadrupled its absurdly modest estimate to claim £849,000. An early, 1926 ink and watercolour Deineka illustration for the magazine Bezbozhnik u Stankaalso caught the eye on £67,500.
Christie’s had an undated Bakst pencil and watercolour stage design for Daphnis and Chloe at a mid-estimate £212,500, and an undated Goncharova Still Life painted in Paris at £181,000. Unsold here were a Repin portrait of his wife (estimate £150,000-200,000); Shukhaev’s twin portraits of himself and his wife (£300,000-500,000); a Kustodiev model, albeit topless (£250,000-350,000).
The most striking 19thcentury success was Schedrin’s 1827 Moonlight over Naples at MacDougall’s, where it cleared top-estimate on £630,500. Two works by the Crimean artist Lev Lagorio also sold well here: From the Bosphorus to the Black Sea (1886) for £321,000 and a 1901 Harbour Scene on £182,000. Nikolai Nevrev’s Keeping the Bonds of Marriage(1903) soared to £203,000.
Christie’s Ayvazovsky Venice at Sunset (1873) cleared a top-estimate £609,000, while Bonhams’ own, small1872 Ayvazovsky Shipwreck on a Rocky Shore hit a top-estimate £212,500.
Some 103 contemporary works were offered during Russian Week, 64% of them selling. Several post-war artists featured in more than one sale – notably Shablavin, Krasnopevtsev, Steinberg, Rabin, Nesterova, Zverev, Yakovlev and Vladimir Ovchinnikov.
Nearly half the contemporary works occurred at MacDougall’s, including the Week’s anticipated top lot, a 2000 version of Ilya Kabakov’s Who Hammered In This Nail? This went unsold against an estimate of £60,000-90,000. MacDougall’s did, however, have the priciest contemporary picture: a snow-dappled, golden-domed Monastery by Sitnikov, painted shortly before his death in 1987, at a double-estimate £78,000. A 1977 Plavinsky triptych,Old Russian Manuscript, followed on £36,400.
There was another Sitnikov at Bonhams, where his 1969 Winter Kremlin collected £32,500. Highlight here was Valery Koshlyakov’s 1999 Gothic II, a view of a soaring cathedral nave (possibly Amiens) with silver birch trees whimsically replacing some of the pillars, that quadrupled hopes on £47,500.
Sotheby’s top seller was Weisberg’s 1976 Little Black Vase at £56,000, while Christie’s sold Nemukhin’s 1989 Netto Brutto for £32,500 and a 1966 Tselkov Portrait for £52,500 – though failed to find a taker for his much larger 1987 Woman with Candle (est. £50,000-70,000).
On December 5 Roseberys of West Norwood offered over 300 works by Marie Vorobieff(1892-1984), nicknamed ‘Marevna’ by Maxim Gorky. This budding Cubo-Pointillist moved to Paris in 1912, had a daughter there by Diego Rivera, then later settled in London. The works on offer hailed from the estate of her English grandson David Phillips, whose 1955 oil and acrylic portrait as a boy (est. £3,000-5,000) was one of 42 unsold lots (although her slightly later portrait of the youthful David with Guitar sold for £2500 at Bonhams).
Marevna’s strongest works in the Roseberys sale dated from 1917 and had the macabre subject of a Soldier & Woman with a Gas Mask. One version in gouache and pencil took £4150; another in gouache and watercolour, entitled La Guerre et l’Amour, made £3,900. Top price at the sale was £7,150 for a 1972 painting John West with His Dogs, followed by £4,940 for a reclining nude (c.1972). A c.1980 portrait of Marevna’s long-ago lover Diego Rivera fetched £3,900.
Meanwhile, in Copenhagen, two Maliavin paintings were on offered by Bruun Rasmussen on November 30, both believed to have featured in the Maliavin solo show held in the Danish capital in 1934 under the auspices of Tsar Nikolai II’s sister, Grand Duchess Olga. Woman with Horse-Drawn Plough hit a mid-furrow DKK 224,000 (£26,700) while Peasants Dancingsold over estimate for DKK 1.06m (£126,000).
WORKS OF ART
A 5-foot Imperial Porcelain gilt and royal blue campana vase (1836) brought Russian Week’s highest price for an objet d’art: £1.81m at Christie’s. The vase was painted with an equestrian portrait of Austrian Emperor Franz I by Nesterov after Johann Peter Krafft, andreputedly acquired by a well-paid Spanish dancer in the Imperial Ballet before the 1917 Revolution, then sold to its consignors in Franco’s Spain.
A pair of 1828 Imperial Porcelain amphora vases, just half the size and painted with Troops at Rest and A Battle Between Turkish & Austrian Troops after Philips Wouwerman, brought a mid-estimate £489,000 at the same sale, while a Deep River vase painted with a spring landscape, made for St Petersburg’s Anichkov Palace in 1910, claimed £50,000 at Bonhams.
RUCKERT OUTGUNS FABERGÉ
For once, the name of Rückert rather than Fabergé featured more prominently in the London salerooms.
Feodor Rückert (1840-1917) opened his goldsmith’s workshop in Moscow in 1886, specializing in enamel, and by 1910 was employing 40 skilled craftsmen. His monumental silver-gilt and cloisonné enamel kovsh (1908-1917), with embossed flower motifs enamelled in pastel colours, snorted to £490,000 at Sotheby’s; while a silver-gilt and enamel oval calling-card tray (c.1900) attributed to Rückert, embellished with Makovsky’s celebrated 1883 Boyar Wedding Feast, brought £194,000 at Bonhams.
The same Makovsky showstopper (now in the Hillwood Museum, Washington D.C.) embellished a Rückert silver-gilt and enamel jewelled casket that was announced sold for £466,000in Sotheby’s post-sale price-list before mysteriously disappearing from the firm’s website.
Two silver-gilt and cloisonné enamel Nikolai II icons each made a handsome £346,000 at Sotheby’s: one, byRückert, featuring the Entrance of the Virgin into the Temple; the other, by Grachev Brothers of St Petersburg, depicting The Trinity.
Far older enamels from northern Russia, made by craftsmen whose families had fled Novgorod after it was put to the sword by Ivan the Terrible in 1570, featured among the 69 examples of Russian craftsmanship interspersed with jewellery and cellos at Sotheby’ssale of items once owned by Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya.
A pair of silver and enamel hexagonal scent-bottles made in Solvychegodsk (between Volgoda and Arkhangelsk) around 1700, one decorated with birds, the other with flowers and portraits, flew to £35,000. A late 17th century enamel teremok casket with flower and bird decor made in Veliky Ustyug, 50 miles south of Solvychegodsk, took £30,000.
Five late 17th/ early 18thcentury silver kovshi brought a total £400,000, led by a parcel-gilt kovsh dated 1703, chased with the double-headed Imperial eagle enclosing a portrait of Peter the Great. A Cyrillic inscription revealed it to have been a gift from the Tsar to Peter Rodionov, citizen of Ustyug and son of Khudakov, for services in tax collection. It sold for £137,500.
It was a leanish few days for Fabergé aficionados, but Bonhams took a triple-estimate £237,000 for agold and enamel 1896 kovsh by Mikhail Perkhin (1860-1903), Fabergé head workmaster from 1886 until his untimely death in 1903. The kovsh had history: it was presented to Victor Albert, 3rd Baron Churchill (1864-1934), at Balmoral in October 1896 by Tsar Nikolai II, and had been consigned from the estate of the late 3rdViscount Churchill.
A Fabergé gold and pictorial enamel box by Perkhin (1899-1903), its top featuring a view across the Neva, brought £175,000 at Sotheby’s, while a quirky Fabergé kovsh in the form of a turquoise ceramic duck (Moscow 1908-17),with silver neo-Russian mounts and garnet eyes, cleared top-estimate with £87,500 at Christie’s.
The market for 1920s Soviet porcelain continues to boom. Christie’s came up with a figurine of a feminine-looking Footballer in a check cap, after Natalia Danko, at £100,000, along with a 1930 bottle vase with Pioneers design by Miklhail Mokh at £106,000. Plates by Alexandra Shekatikhina-Pototskaya were in high demand both here – a 1923 Accordion Player at £150,000 – and at Sotheby’s, where two 1921 plates, showing Truants and a Bellringer, chimed in with £125,000 and £100,000 respectively.
Also of note at Sotheby’s: good prices for 18thcentury miniatures, notably £106,000 – over ten times estimate – for a 1794 Borikovsky portrait of Count Alexei Vasiliev.
Across in Copenhagen on November 30, Bruun Rasmussentoasted their 70thanniversary with a sapphire tiara by C.E. Bolin of St Petersburg, presented by Tsar Nikolai II to the future Queen Alexandrine of Denmark at her wedding in 1898, and consigned by her great-granddaughters. The firm described the tiara – adorned with eight oval-cut Ceylon sapphires and single-cut diamonds – as the ‘most interesting Russian objet d’artBruun Rasmussen have ever handled.’ It sold over top-estimate for DKK 2.36m (£280,000).