Billionaires Lured by $108 Million Russian Art Sales

Larionov Painting
"Une journee de mai," a 1904 painting by Mikhail Larionov. It will be included in a sale of Russian art to be held by the specialist auction house MacDougall's in London on Nov. 25. Source: MacDougall's via Bloomberg.

Russian art valued at as much as 67.8 million pounds ($109 million) will go on sale in London starting this weekend.

Auction houses are attempting to lure the U.K. capital’s growing population of wealthy residents from Russia and the former Commonwealth of Independent States.

At the height of the previous art-market boom in 2007, auctions of Russian works at Sotheby’s, Christie’s International and MacDougall’s raised almost 100 million pounds.

Demand subsequently cooled as buyers’ tastes became more international and questions were raised over the authenticity of some of works offered for sale.

“Back then, they were buying just about anything signed in Cyrillic,” the London-based art adviser Wendy Goldsmith said in an interview. “Then they got clever, asked themselves why they were paying so much for these things and bought in other areas. There was also the issue of fakes.”

This latest series of auctions will test whether the market has been reinvigorated by an influx of new residents in London. The population of Russian and former C.I.S. nationals living in the U.K. capital and south-east England has increased to as many as 500,000, the Art Newspaper said this month.

England’s schools, luxury real estate and tax regime have become an increasingly powerful magnet for oligarchs and their families.

Highly Valued

Specialist auction house MacDougall’s has the most highly valued sale. In two parts on Nov. 25 and Nov. 28, it carries an estimate of 17.8 million pounds to 27.1 million pounds.

Mikhail Larionov’s impressionistic 1904 interior “Une journee de mai” is priced at 900,000 pounds to 2 million pounds.

Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions on Nov. 26 and Nov. 27 are estimated to raise as much as 16.3 million pounds and 24.4 million pounds respectively. The Christmassy 1923 Boris Kustodiev canvas “The Coachman,” showing a bearded figure standing in sunlit snow, is the star at Christie’s, valued at 1.5 million pounds to 2 million pounds.

Sotheby’s has a large-scale Vasily Vereshchagin painting inspired by the Russo-Turkish war, “Transportation of the Wounded.” Widely exhibited in the U.S. in the 1880’s, this is priced at 800,000 pounds to 1.2 million pounds.

Art Fund

Moscow-based billionaire Andrei Filatov has set up a fund to buy Soviet works that left Russia after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1991.

Co-owner of the port and railway company N-Trans, Filatov plans to buy between 10 and 12 works a year. The Socialist Realist pieces, dating from between 1917 to 1991, will be made available for public view to further the understanding of the art of the period, the billionaire said in an email.

A plaster model for Vera Mukhina’s landmark stainless steel sculpture “Worker and Kolkhoz Woman” made for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris, and subsequently moved to Moscow, are among the works that have so far been acquired.

Filatov has been collecting this type of art for the last five years, spending about $100 million. The billionaire said in an e-mail that he couldn’t divulge how much he’d invest annually.

Paris Wine

The Paris restaurant La Tour d’Argent is selling bottles of Cognac and other spirits, some of which are more than 200 years old.

Christie’s will be offering 180 lots of digestifs from the cellars of the Seine-side haunt for celebrities since 1582, in its pre-Christmas auction of wines and spirits in London on Dec. 13-14. The collection is estimated to raise more than 160,000 pounds.

“It is unusual for our diners to request some of our rarest and oldest spirits, and without wishing for such premium spirits to be left forgotten, we requested Christie’s help in ensuring these excellent bottles are enjoyed by those who will truly appreciate them,” Andre Terrail, owner of La Tour d’Argent, wrote in an emailed note.

Two dust-caked jeroboams (each equivalent to 2.5 liters) of 1805 Grande Fine Champagne Cognac “La Tour d’Argent” carry estimates of 10,000 pounds to 15,000 pounds each. They were bottled on-site at the restaurant during the same year as Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz.

A bottle of 1788 Vieux Cognac Grande Fine Champagne “Clos de Griffier” Cafe Anglais is priced at 3,000 pounds to 4,000 pounds. It is one of the oldest wines or spirits ever offered at Christie’s, the London-based auction house said.

Muse highlights include Richard Vines on food, Jeremy Gerard on New York theater, Robert Heller on music and Greg Evans on film.

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