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    Billionaires Disappear From Russian Art Auction at Sotheby’s

    Date: 25 Apr 2009 | | Views: 2900

    Source: Bloomberg, by Katya Kazakina

    An ornate silver and enamel punch bowl and ladle produced in Moscow by jeweler Feodor Ruckert around 1910 sold for $482,500 yesterday, more than double its estimate at Sotheby’s in New York.

    Mostly, though, prices were distinctly cooler in the morning and afternoon sessions devoted to Russian art.

    Total sales of $13.8 million fell short of the high estimate for $17.5 million. Of the 308 lots, 35.1 percent failed to sell.

    The global economic crunch has taken a toll on the number of ultra-rich wishing to acquire symbols of taste and luxury. Moscow has 32 billionaires, down from 110 a year ago, and the 100 richest Russians have lost 73 percent of their wealth last year, according to Forbes Russia magazine.

    The punch bowl, which had a presale high estimate of $200,000, stood out in the second part of yesterday’s sale, shining brightly amidst an assortment of Faberge pieces and icons.

    The priciest Faberge piece -- a silver toiletry set that once belonged to Russian Prince Gorchakov -- failed to sell. It was estimated to fetch between $300,000 and $500,000.

    “For the current economic climate, the results are good,” said Natalia Kolodzei, executive director of the U.S.-based Kolodzei Art Foundation, which promotes Russian art.

    “If we saw such results a year and a half ago, it would have been a catastrophe,” she said.

    Father and Son

    Only two lots topped $1 million. Among them was “Columbus Sailing From Palos,” an 1892 seascape by Ivan Aivazovsky, which fetched $1.6 million.

    Works by Nicholas Roerich and his son Sviatoslav attracted active bidding in the morning. Their decorative landscapes and portraits featured striking color combinations and exotic settings.

    The senior Roerich’s “Secrets of the Walls” (1920), a small-town scene, fetched $530,500, more than double its high presale estimate of $200,000. Yet his “St. Mercurius of Smolensk,” a vibrant 1919 painting that was featured on the catalog cover failed to sell.

    Roerich Junior’s “Three Boddisatvas” (1920s) sold for $266,500, more than three times its high estimate of $80,000, setting an auction record for the artist.

    A year ago, Sotheby’s took in $46.5 million on 386 lots of fine, contemporary and decorative Russian art over two days.

    “To me, the economic crisis is a gift,” said Georgy Khatsenkov, a Monaco-based collector. “I bought a couple of paintings at lower prices than I had expected.”

    Melancholy Nude

    Khatsenkov placed a winning $110,000 bid for Pavel Tchelitchev’s melancholy male nude from 1926 and another one, at $37,500, for Dmitri Krasnopevtsev’s canvas depicting an old stove.

    Quality was also an issue with bidders.

    “There are no masterpieces,” said Alexandre Gertsman, a private New York art dealer, who said that unlike previous seasons he had decided against consigning works.

    “It’s not the right time to sell strong works,” he said. “I don’t want to give them away at low prices and I don’t want to risk not selling them.”

    Aivazovsky’s “Columbus Sailing from Palos” sold after vigorous bidding between two men in the room. The victor, a dark-haired man in a blue-and-white yarmulke, declined to identify himself. He said he was a New York-based collector.

    Father of Futurism

    The work depicts the explorer’s departure from Spain in 1492 and appeared at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. It was subsequently acquired by heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post.

    David Burliuk, who is known as the father of Russian Futurism, was represented by three canvases. “Blue Rider” was put on the block by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden to benefit its acquisition program, according to the catalog. It sold for $302,500 against the presale estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.

    Contemporary art works by Grisha Bruskin and conceptual duo Komar and Melamid also didn’t attract buyers.

    Prices include a buyer’s premium, or commission, of 25 percent of the hammer price up to $50,000; 20 percent, from $50,000 to $1 million; and 12 percent, above $1 million. Estimates don’t include the commission.

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