While getting ready for the forthcoming Russian Art Week Winter 2018 we put together a list of the most expensive Russian artists and artworks ever sold at auctions. Will there be new records this autumn? We shall soon find it out!
Follow the link to view the schedule of all the sales during Russian Art Week.
You can find out more about the special selling exhibition organised by RA+C here.
Russian born Mark Rothko (1903 – 1970) introduced Abstract Expressionism to the world at large. Characterized by bright bands of horizontal colors painted on enormous canvases, Rothko’s style was intended to engulf viewers in the artwork.
His 1951 work was sold in 2014 to Russian businessman Dmitry Ryblovlev for $186 million, almost doubling the previous record high price for the artist’s work (No. 1 Royal Red and Blue was sold for £75 million in 2012).
Kazimir Malevich does not require introduction. His work provided a gateway for the evolution of Modernism. Malevich pushed the boundaries of painting to a point far beyond recognition, forever changing the advancement of art. Without the Suprematist Composition paintings, the art being made today would not exist as we now know it.
In 1927, Malevich intended to organize his exhibition abroad where he brought nearly one hundred of his works, which later remained with the architect Hugo Hering in Berlin. The latter preserved them through the era of Nazism, selling them in the 1950s, after the death of Kazimir Malevich. Not long ago, nearly 40 of Malevich’ inheritors quite proved to the court that Hugo Hering did not own the paintings, so he had no right to trade in them. Therefore one of the buyers — the Stedelijk state museum in Holland — was compelled to give away the masterpiece, which was immediately put up for auction by Malevich’s heirs.
Back in 2008 his 1916 work set a world record for Russian art at $60 million.One decade later it caused another sensation when the work was sold by Christie’s at a record price of $85.8 million.
Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky is often credited with painting one of the first purely abstract modern works. Kandinsky’s colourful, dynamic works are informed by a uniquely spiritual interpretation of art making.
In June 2017 the record for his work by the was broken twice in less than an hour. First to go under the hammer was Murnau — Landschaft mit grünem Haus dated 1909, which sold for $26.4 million. That record was broken minutes later by Kandinsky’s powerful abstract masterpiece Bild mit weissen Linien from 1913, which was driven by a prolonged bidding battle to $41.6 million.
Born into a poor, Orthodox Jewish family in Minsk, Chaim Soutine became known as a daring Expressionist artist in Paris after art collector Albert Barnes purchased 52 of his works in 1922. Unlike his contemporaries such as Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse who were more commercially conscious and focused on the exterior, Soutine explored more existential subjects pertaining to anxiety.
Le Boeuf is one of the three remaining original paintings from the series and it’s arguably one of the grandest, largest, most imposing, museum-quality piece by Soutine. In May 2015 it achieved a record price for the artist of $28.165 million at the Christie’s curated auction.
Les Amoureux is one of the greatest masterpieces of Russian Jewish artist Marc Chagall’s oeuvre, depicting the loves of his life: his childhood sweetheart Bella Rosenfeld and France, the country he made his home after the Russian Revolution. Entwined together in the night sky, surrounded by verdant, flowering bushes and a bird soaring through the clouds, the lovers fully evoke the devotion and tenderness so present in Chagall and Bella’s relationship.
The painting remained in the same family for nearly 90 years until in November 2017 it was sold to a Russian buyer for $25 million. The result is nearly double the artist’s previous auction record of $14.8 million (with fees) and well above the work’s $12 million to $18 million pre-sale estimate.
Alexej von Jawlensky
Alexej von Jawlensky was a Russian painter associated with the Der Blauer Reiter group in Munich. Schokko (Schokko mit Tellerhut [Schokko With Wide-Brimmed Hat]) is one of his most powerful and stylised female portraits of 1910. Her exotic appearance and elaborate appeal notwithstanding, the model was a young girl from a village near Munich. Before posing in Jawlensky’s cold studio, she liked to drink a cup of hot chocolate and her requests for ‘a cup of Schokko’ led to the nickname given to her by the Jawlenskys.
In 2008 at Sotheby’s someone from Russia paid $18.6 million for Jawlensky’s Schokko, a colorful portrait of a young German village girl. The price was more than double the previous auction record for the artist, set at Sotheby’s in New York in 2003. The experts called this deal «investor success».
Valentin Serov was a Russian painter and one of the premier portrait artists of his era. Portrait of Maria Zetlin (1882-1976) is, without doubt, one the most exquisite Serov’s works. The devastating elegance and poise of the sitter, captured in Serov’s unique silvery tones, epitomises the mastery of Russia’s preeminent portraitist. Painted in 1910 in Biarritz, this commission was undertaken at the apex of Serov’s career, one year before his untimely death.
The portrait appeared first time on the market in when it was sold by Christies to benefit the Ramat Gan Museums in Israel. The top lot in the November 2014 Important Russian Art auction, the painting was estimated at £1.5m-2.5m, but soared to £9.2m ($14.5m) as one of the finest Serov paintings seen on the market in recent years.
This 1913 work by Russian painter, theatre artist, painter, archaeologist, explorer and writer Nicholas Roerich is a major, almost mystical, figure in the history of Russian art. He famously designed the set for the Rite of Spring which outraged Paris society 100 years ago. In 2013 his work caused a sensation again.
Madonna Laboris was always known to exist but its whereabouts had remained a mystery until it was rediscovered by Bonhams experts in a private collection in the U.S.A. It is undoubtedly one of the most important works by Nicholas Roerich to appear at auction for many years so it was not surprising that the bidding was fierce. Pre-estimated at around £ 800 thousand — 1.2 million, it was sold 7 times more expensive at 7.88 million(about $13.5 million).
Nikolai Fechin, Ilya Repin’s student who immigrated to the USA in 1923, had won certain art reputation in his homeland; however, it was not so big as to be remembered in the Soviet years. The Little Cowboy was painted in the American period of the artist’s career: he stayed in the State of New Mexico for a long time and portrayed lots of locals, including both cowboys, and Native Americans.
Firstly the painting was sold for $632,500 in May, 2010 in New York and then was resold for $10.9million — more than seventeen times higher — at Macdougall’s in London in December, 2010. It was the most expensive lot of Russian art ever sold by this auction house. In addition to this the work was also the top lot of the whole Russian week of that year in London.
Russian avant-garde is currently the hottest area of the Russian art market, but paintings are extremely rare and only saleable when they have fully recorded provenance and early exhibition history. There is no surprise that Natalia Goncharova is one of the most sought-after painters in this segment of the art market. Her works could have made an entire list of most expensive auction sales. This also makes her the only female artists of our top 10 list.
Goncharova came into contact with Spanish folk traditions in 1916, the year that Alfonso XIII invited her together with the Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes to perform in the country. It was that in 1916 Goncharova designed costumes and stage sets for two ballets inspired by Hispanic motifs. In this 1916 work, however, Goncharova reduced the image of the Spanish woman to flat geometric shapes. The works was sold by Christie’s in February 2010 at $10.8 million.