Russian Art Emerges in the American Market

April 20, 2011 Updated: October 2, 2015

THE SWORD DANCE: Russian artist Henryk Siemiradzki's painting, dated 1887, was estimated to sell for between $600,000 and $800,000. It went for $2 million at Sotheby's on April 12. (Courtesy of Sotheby's)
THE SWORD DANCE: Russian artist Henryk Siemiradzki's painting, dated 1887, was estimated to sell for between $600,000 and $800,000. It went for $2 million at Sotheby's on April 12. (Courtesy of Sotheby's)
The popularity of Russian art in America is growing, with Sotheby’s and Christie’s leading the way.

A Sotheby’s auction on April 12 achieved $16,089,390, far surpassing the pre-sale estimate and setting a record for the highest takings in New York for Russian art since 2008.

The sale showed that there is a strong demand for unique and rare material from Russia, explains Karen Kettering, vice president and senior specialist in Sotheby’s Russian Works of Art department.

“We continue to achieve extraordinary results for fresh objects, many of which have been hidden away in private collections for years. We will continue to focus on sourcing such material and bringing it to auction for our clients,” Kettering said in a press release.

Henryk Siemiradzki’s “The Sword Dance” sold for $2,098,500, an auction record for the artist.

The April 12 sale will be followed by an auction of important Russian art in London and New York in June and November respectively.

Christie’s Russian Art Sale achieved $5,225,250. The highest selling piece was Boris Grigoriev’s “Les Enfants,” which sold for $1,314,500. Other artists reached world-auction records for some pieces.

“The results of the sale clearly indicate that the market for Russian art is strong and deep, with an international clientele in search of high quality works,” said Izabela Grocholski, head of Russian Art at Christie’s.

TABLE TOP: An important and rare micromosaic table by Gioacchino Barberi, made for the Russian court, 1830-1833, was estimated to sell for between $400,000 and $600,000. It went for $1.9 million. (Courtesy of Sotheby's)
TABLE TOP: An important and rare micromosaic table by Gioacchino Barberi, made for the Russian court, 1830-1833, was estimated to sell for between $400,000 and $600,000. It went for $1.9 million. (Courtesy of Sotheby's)
Russian art specialist MacDougall Auctions, in London, has its auction coming up in June. Interestingly, during Russian Art Week December 2010, MacDougall’s outdid Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Bonhams in the course of three auctions.

“Some sectors of Russian Art, such as early 20th century and 19th century art, are very attractive to wealthy Russians who studied such paintings in school. Other sectors, such as Russian Contemporary, Soviet Realist, and Emigre Art, are very good value relative both to Russian Classic and to International Art,” explained William MacDougall, the founder of the London auction house after Russian Art Week in 2010 via e-mail.

The collapse of communism and the ensuing desire of Russian collectors to bring their cultural riches back to Russia meant an increase in prices and competition.

“The Russian and Ukrainian economies are growing, and art is a way of participating in that growth with limited political risk,” MacDougal continued.

MacDougall is optimistic about the upcoming auctions of Russian art. He said there has been a recovery since April 2009, after the downturn due to the economic crisis.

Also, 50 years to the day after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man to enter outer space, made his historic mission, the “Vostok 3KA-2 Space Capsule” he traveled in sold at Sotheby’s.

Evgeny Yurchenko, chairman of the investment fund AS Popov, paid $2.8 million for the capsule and will be returning it to Russia.

“Until now, the Vostok 3KA-2 space capsule was the only one of its kind outside of Russia, and with the support and participation of Sotheby’s, I will be able to bring it home. It was especially meaningful to do so on April 12, 2011, the 50th anniversary of the first manned flight into space,” Yurchenko said in the press release.

He hopes it will find a home where it belongs—in a Russian museum.