Moscow's millionaires in pursuit of art
December 1, 2004 The Scotsman
FLUSH with cash and culturally conscious, Moscow’s millionaires are descending on London this week to snap up national treasures at what is being billed the biggest offering of Russian paintings ever.
So-called "New Russians" have accumulated vast fortunes, helped by rising prices for oil and other raw materials, and have spent some of that wealth on buying works by artists they were taught in school to revere.
"I would say that 90 per cent of the buyers and people driving the phenomenon are New Russians from Moscow," said Joanna Vickery, Sotheby’s Russian art specialist.
In a bid to tap one of the art world’s hottest sectors, Christie’s and Sotheby’s go head-to-head with sales on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.
Christie’s also holds a silver and gold auction, imperial wines go under the hammer at Sotheby’s and newly-opened saleroom MacDougall’s, specialising in Russian art, believes the appetite is there to justify its own event on Tuesday.
Yet the booming Russian art market has brought with it a growing number of forgeries, raising concerns that the more buyers pay for works, the more likely they are to be fakes.
Vladimir Asriev, of the online auctioneer russianartgallery.com said rich Russians were prepared to part with increasingly large sums for a piece of their country’s heritage.
"Russian art is a question of prestige rather than anything else - national pride and something the Russians are familiar with," he said.
The desire to return to Russia some of the works sold in the West reverses a trend that started in 1917, when aristocrats fled the Bolshevik Revolution, and continued under Communist regimes strapped for cash and opposed to "bourgeois" excess.
Painters such as Ivan Shishkin, Ilya Repin, Valentin Serov and Ivan Aivazovsky have led the way in recent years. Industry indices show that their works have appreciated by between 250 and 600 per cent since 1997. Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s are forecasting sales in excess of ?8 million this week.