Last year, the Russians were buying art just as fast as they could. Now, they're doing the same thing in reverse. Sotheby's and Christie's are bringing $31 million in Russian art to market, thanks to a global recession that has left the country's many billionaires financially crippled and in desperate need of liquidity.
Christie's is hoping to rake in $21.6 million from today's Russian art auction, which includes a porcelain dinner set owned by once-heir to the throne Grand Duke Paul. Sotheby's has approximately $9 million in Russian art, which it plans to send under the gavel on November 2.
If art and economic never intersected, we could just enjoy the aesthetic and be done with it. But, reality forces its way in – especially with the Russian economy 10 percent smaller than it was a year ago. And, the number of Russian billionaires has plummeted from 110 in 2008 to 35 now. Wealthy Russians and Ukrainians, according to William MacDougall, co-director of MacDougall's in London, are responsible for more than 90 percent of the market for Russian art.
So, expect the selling prices to suck, frankly. Even with some strong lots – Alexis de Tiesenhausen, director of Russian art for Christie's calls this auction unique in terms of "quality and historical significance" – the target market is selling rather than buying. The Christie's auction consists of 550 lots. The Sotheby's auction will have 122 – including paintins by Natalia Goncharova and Konstantin Korovin.
Estimates are much lower than they were in 2008, because of supply at auction, the drop in the art market and the absence of buyers in the target market.