Russian art from tsars to fruits on sale for $87 mln

MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - Russian paintings spanning two centuries, from pre-Bolshevik tsarist scenes to modernism, are expected to fetch up to 44 million pounds ($87 million) in London auctions next week, as the motherland’s art continues to attract international attention and hefty price tags.

London-based auction house Sotheby’s will sell the collection, which includes early works by celebrated artists Marc Chagall and Vasily Kandinsky, over three days to both international and Russian buyers.

“Russian art deserves to be collected internationally. It was an official ideology of the Soviet period, and because of this, Russian art was divided from the international scene,” Mikhail Kamensky, director of Sotheby’s Russian division, told Reuters.

Sweeping bright yellows dominate the skyline in an oil painting from 1886, where a miniature Pushkin sits with a countess on a beach. The piece, by Ukrainian-born Ivan Aivazovsky, has an estimate between 1.2 and 1.8 million pounds.

Leading Moscow futurist Natalia Goncharova’s still-life of jagged sliced fruits and teacups in whirls of color, painted in 1911, is expected to realize between 2 and 3 million pounds.

The auction house -- which was established in London over 260 years ago and now has branches across the world -- sold Russian art worth around 89.6 million pounds ($176.2 million) worldwide last year.

“This surprise growth, which amazes people, analysts and collectors, it is just a correction, Russian art is regaining the commercial value that belongs to it,” Kamensky said.

Despite Russia’s political tensions with the West, facets of Russian culture are growing rapidly and prospering as the economy soars for its 10th straight year, fuelled by record prices for oil, its biggest export.

Sotheby’s, which opened its Moscow branch just over a year ago, has said that 80-90 percent of the traditional Russian art it auctions is snatched up by Russians, who either live in the country or abroad. They also buy about 70 percent of contemporary Russian art.

“We now have a class of Russian bourgeoisie, and they want to have this art back in their homes, and they are spending their money on it. This is justice,” said Kamensky.


“Alla”, an early work by Marc Chagall, who spent most of his adult life in France and is best known for his folk-themed portraits of Russian and Jewish rural life, shows a dark-skinned woman draped in a purple headscarf, clutching a flower pot.

“For this piece, we will find a buyer who is Russian, who is concentrated on collecting Russian Jewish artists... This piece would be the pearl of the collection.”

“Alla” is estimated between 1.4 and 1.8 million pounds.

A small 1903 Kandinsky painting measuring 33 centimeters across and estimated up to 600,000 pounds, shows a solitary faceless man standing in the middle of a street.

Its thick brush strokes are typical of the Moscow-born painter’s early period, before he moved into abstract paintings and Cubism, which brought him international fame.

Works showing snow-covered Russian terrain, a Ukrainian country girl with a coy smile, the coronation of a tsar and a 1976 painting of a figure standing amongst muted cream columns are also featured.

The Soviet Union may have collapsed less than two decades ago, but Russian movies are reporting bigger box office returns at home as the industry undergoes a boom and clothes by Russian designers have been spotted on Hollywood stars.

“I’m sure that in 10 years, or in 20, we will have some of our artists at the same level as the stars of French and British art,” Kamensky added.

Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing by Paul Casciato