A Christie's employee displays a Faberge bejewelled Imperial presentation snuffbox with a miniature portrait of Tsar Nicholas II on display at the auction house in London, Friday, Nov. 26, 2010. The exceptional rare snuffbox, as Faberge produced only 19 Imperial snuffbox with a miniature portrait of Tsar Nicholas II, is to be auctioned on Nov. 29 in 'Russian Art' sale with an estimated price of 400,000 to 600,000 pounds ($630,318 to 945,477, euro 471,667 to 707,500). AP Photo/Sang Tan.
LONDON (REUTERS) -Rich Russians return to London next week for a series of art sales which auctioneers hope will prove the once-booming market is on a path to growth.
Estimates suggest expectations are for solid gains on last year, although they are likely to prove far less spectacular than the astronomic prices being paid by Chinese buyers for Chinese art in recent sales ranging from London to Hong Kong.
"You've got to look at consignment," said Jo Vickery, head of the Russian art department at Sotheby's in London, when asked why the upcoming sales look set to fall short of results from two to four years ago.
"There is less art work on offer at the moment than there was two years ago, but I think that is changing," she told Reuters. "A lot more people (sellers) are coming in now for next year and there is a sense there will be more art on offer.
"Stability has brought people back, and prices are holding."
Sotheby's expects to raise more than 12 million pounds, less than last year's corresponding total of 19.4 million pounds, although that included a single-owner auction worth more than seven million pounds.
The auction house also just held a Russian sale in New York which fetched $14.4 million, meaning overall it is looking for slight growth.
"We're feeling quietly positive," Vickery said. "We've had a stable last few years and there is a growing sense of optimism in the market."
MACDOUGALL'S MUSCLES IN
Specialist Russian art auction house MacDougall's expects to sell art worth over 17 million pounds, nearly double its winter 2009 tally of 9.4 million.
It boasts the "top lot" of the London week, with Ivan Shishkin's painting "View of Valaam Island, Kukko" estimated to be worth 900,000-1.2 million pounds.
"We've put together a very good collection -- we have very important top lots including Shishkin, Aivazovsky, Repin and Goncharova, and so we're reaching into the 20th century," said director Catherine MacDougall.
Christie's, forecasting sales of 13.4-19.5 million pounds up from 8.9 million in the corresponding auctions last year, has two paintings estimated at 800,000-1.2 million pounds.
One is Petr Konchalovsky's "Versailles. L'Allee" and the other Konstantin Korovin's "A lady in white seated in a garden."
The star lot at Sotheby's is expected to be Alexander Yakovlev's "The Kuli-Kuta Dance, Niamey" dated 1926, worth an estimated 800,000-1.0 million pounds.
Among the buyers expected to bid for Russian treasures next week is prominent collector Alexander Ivanov, who bought a Faberge egg in London in 2007 for nine million pounds, or $18.5 million at the time, a price he described as "cheap".
There is nothing on offer likely to command such a sum this time around, however, reflecting the smaller market.
An ART Report analysis of the sector found that last year, total sales of Russian fine art at Christie's, Sotheby's and MacDougall's fell 47 percent from about $159 million in 2008 to under $84 million in 2009.