Tibetan paintings top lackluster Russia art sales

NEW YORK Fri Apr 24, 2009 7:31pm EDT

1 of 4. 'Portrait of Nicholas Roerich in a Tibetan Robe,' by Svetoslav Roerich is seen in this undated handout photo. It sold for $2.9 million at Christie's in New York on April 24, 2009, setting a world auction record for the artist.

Credit: Reuters/Christie's/Handout

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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Father and son's paintings of Tibet topped Russian art sales Friday but overall prices faltered, Christie's auction house said.

This week's sales at Christie's and Sotheby's marked the first 2009 test of the appetite for Russian art. Collectively, they brought in $27 million compared to last year's New York sales of $64 million.

"Portrait of Nicholas Roerich in a Tibetan Robe," by Svetoslav Roerich was the top seller at $2.9 million. Sold at Christie's, it set a record price for the artist.

"The sale is a testament to how robust the Russian art market is, and we are especially pleased with the auction record set for Svetoslav Roerich," said Christie's Russian art chief James Hastie.

"The Greatest and Holiest of Tangla," a landscape of a snowcapped Tibetan mountain range, by Nicholas Roerich, Svetoslav's father, was the second biggest seller, fetching $1.4 million.

The elder Roerich began living in Tibet in the 1920s, and he founded the Agni Yoga Society, a non-profit education institution.

Christie's auction brought in $13.2 million, with 69 percent of the 390 lots sold.

On Wednesday, Sotheby's sale of Russian art sold $13.8 million, barely a quarter of the $46.5 million at last year's event.

At Christie's the surprise top decorative art seller was a silver soup tureen with lion-masked rings, going for $338,500, more than 11 times its high estimate.

A jeweled Faberge Lilly of the Valley from 1900 fetched $314,500. Suspended from a gold stem, it has seven pearls simulating buds encrusted with roughly 40 diamonds.

Christie's said there was competitive bidding from diverse international client base.

But purchases fell far short of recent years when billionaires splurged abroad to bring Russian art back home.

In 2007, Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov bought the collection of the late cellist Mstislav Rostropovich for "substantially higher" than $40 million, Sotheby's said.

Oil and metals tycoon Viktor Vekselberg bought the 180-piece Forbes collection of Faberge eggs in 2004 for about $100 million through Sotheby's.

In 2008 just 32 Russians made the Forbes 2008 billionaire list, compared with 87 the previous year.

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