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The Golden Age of Russian Impressionism



Russian Art Market to Face First Big Test of 2009

April 21, 2009 

          Art Fortune | Art Discoveries


Courtesy Sotheby'sIvan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky, "Columbus Sailing from Palos" (1892). Est. $1–1.5 million.

NEW YORK—Collectors and art enthusiasts curious to see how Russian art fares in the current market will have a chance to find out this week as rival auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s host important sales in New York.

“It’s hard to predict where this sale will go,” said Karen Kettering, vice president and specialist in Russian works of art at Sotheby’s, which holds a two-session sale tomorrow. “The Russian art market is unprecedented — it didn’t exist 10 years ago.”


Sotheby’s November sale of Russian art, which took place in London and was the last big auction in the category, realized £25.2 million ($36.9 million), below its presale estimate of £30–43 million. The house's estimate for the sale on Wednesday is a less ambitious $12.6–17.5 million, for 310 lots.


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Scott Niichel, a Sotheby's specialist in Russian paintings, was optimistic as he pointed out an Ivan Aivazovsky painting entitled Columbus Sailing from Palos earlier this week, which Sotheby’s expects the work to fetch up to $1.5 million. Aivazovsky created the work for the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893 as a tribute to the 400-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to America. A smaller Aivazovsky, which hung in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg as part of Tsar Nicholas II’s collection, is estimated to garner between $650,000 and $750,000.


Nicholas Roerich, a 20th-century painter who explored nature and spirituality, is also getting a lot of buzz. He lived in Tibet, founded the Agni Yoga Society, and was seen as a mystical guide.


Daniel Entin, director of the Nicholas Roerich Museum, said he hoped for a strong response to Roerich’s painting St. Mercurius of Smolensk, which is expected to bring in up to $700,000. The vibrant painting depicts St. Mercurius, who during combat with an enemy saw a vision of a beautiful woman who struck his enemies dead. But as prophesied, St. Mercurius later died in battle.


The auction will feature more than just paintings. A Fabergé silver toilet set (c. 1900) that was given as a wedding gift from Prince Alexander Konstantinovich Gorchakov to his bride-to-be Daria Mikhailovna Bibikova and that still has traces of the original perfume is a rare treat since it’s in its original oak chest, said Kettering. Also in its original chest is an 1879 imperial silver tea service given as a wedding gift to the granddaughter of 19th-century Emperor Nicholas I.


The highlights of Christie’s sale, in which 390 lots will be offered in two sessions on Friday, are a portrait of Nicholas Roerich by his son Svetoslav Roerich and two early paintings by David Burliuk. There will also be a selection of more than 60 lots by Fabergé, including a rare lily of the valley flower study and a rare hardstone parrot on a guilloché enameled silver perch.


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