Russian Buyers’ Spending Spree Boosts $137 Million U.K. Auction

Russian buyers went on a shopping spree at a London auction last night that raised 84.9 million pounds ($136.6 million).

Collectors from the former Soviet Union bid a total of more than 20 million pounds for works by 20th-century artists such as Pierre Bonnard and Rene Magritte at Christie’s International.
“It’s shopping,” Guy Jennings, partner in the London- based dealership Theobald Jennings, said in an interview. “These are colorful works that will look good in a house in the Cote d’Azur. This market is driven by Western-based Russians and new European money. The rise in commodity prices has made a difference to them.”
Trophy-quality Impressionist and modern pieces are in demand after making up 7 out of the 10 priciest lots at auction last year. Some collectors have been helped by higher commodity values, with the Standard & Poor’s GSCI Spot Index up 34 percent in the last year.
Sandra Nedvetskaia, a Zurich-based Christie’s employee who looks after Russian clients, gave a winning phone bid of 7.2 million pounds for the 1923 Bonnard landscape, “Terrasse a Vernon.” The price with fees, the highest of the evening, was more than double the low estimate and a record for the artist.
Nedvetskaia’s bidders gave a further 4.7 million pounds for Magritte’s 1941 painting of a nude woman, “L’aimant,” and 3.1 million pounds for Kees van Dongen’s 1926 portrait of the fur- coated actress, Lili Damita, which doubled its low estimate.

Russian Favorite
A 1912 landscape by Russian favorite Natalia Goncharova was bought for 4 million pounds and Andre Derain’s 1905 Fauvist landscape “Bateaux a Collioure” for 5.9 million pounds by the same bidder represented by Thomas Seydoux, Christie’s head of Impressionist and modern art.
Forty-nine percent of the auction’s buyers were from continental Europe (including Russia), 23 percent from the U.K., 23 percent from the U.S. and 5 percent from Asia, said Christie’s.
Decorative paintings attracted competition, particularly if fresh to the market. An 1896 Edgar Degas drawing of dancers, “Danseuse jupes jaunes (Deux danseuses en jaune),” had been in the same private European collection since 1899. It sold for 5.4 million pounds, beating a top estimate of 5 million pounds.

The 31-lot Surrealist section raised a record 23 million pounds with a new auction high of 4.1 million pounds paid on the telephone for Salvador Dali’s 1926 painting, “Study for ‘Honey is Sweeter than Blood,’” influenced by his friend the poet Federico Garcia Lorca. Never offered at auction before, it was estimated at as much as 3 million pounds.

Brown Sunflowers

The one high-value disappointment was Paul Gauguin’s 1901 study of sunflowers in a vase painted in Tahiti as a tribute to his friend Vincent van Gogh. “Nature morte a ‘L’Esperance’” failed to attract any bids against a low estimate of 7 million pounds. The brown color of the painting put off buyers, dealers said.
Four works sold for 10.1 million pounds to raise acquisition funds for the Art Institute of Chicago.
Christie’s estimated its 76 lots would fetch at least 72.6 million pounds at hammer prices. Seventy-nine percent of the works were successful, with 23 lots selling for more than 1 million pounds. The equivalent event last year totaled 76.8 million pounds, also boosted by Russian demand.
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)