Rough Results for Russian Art at Christie's and Sotheby's Auctions
"Russian" and "art" together used to mean "stratospheric prices paid." Not any more. Last week's Russian art auction results at Christie's and Sotheby''s showed the difference a year can make. Last year, the two houses brought in $64 million at the New York-based annual ritual. This year, the final take was only $27 million.
At the Christie's auction, the top-selling piece was Svetoslav Roerich's "Portrait of Nicholas Roerich in a Tibetan Robe" for $2.9 million – thus accounting for more than 10 percent of both houses' sales. It set a record for works by Roerich. The next best was by Nicholas Roerich himself. "The Greatest and Holiest of Tangla," a landscape of Tibetan snowcaps, brought in $1.4 million.
Efforts to repatriate Russian art, of which I first learned from Annika Larres at the Bukowskis auction house in Helsinki, seem to have slowed, due in large part to the loss of so many Russian billionaires over the past twelve months.
Overall, Christie's moved 69 percent of the 390 lots available for $13.2 million. The father/son Roerich team accounted for a third of that. The Sotheby's auction, last Wednesday, was good for $13.8 million, compared to $46.5 million in 2008.