Christie’s Russian art sale: records smashed but much unsold

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Portrait of Maria Zetlin (1882-1976) by Valentin Serov

Only 240 of the 421 lots sold at yesterday’s Important Russian Art Sale at Christie’s London. Economic sanctions and falling rouble values no doubt played a part, but Christie’s Alexis Tiesenhausen, international specialist and head of the Russian Art Department, London, put the results in context, saying:

“This sale demonstrates a 22% increase on November 2013, which had achieved £16.8 million; we look forward to our next sale in June 2015.”

The sale was buoyed by the record-breaking sale of Portrait of Maria Zetlin (1882-1976) by Valentin Serov (1865-1911) for £9,266,500 (US$14,511,339, € 11,685,057) – far in excess of its estimate of £1,500,000-2,500,000.

“We are thrilled that the undisputed masterpiece, Valentin Serov’s Portrait of Maria Zetlin, sold for the extraordinary sum of £9.2 million, smashing the auction record for the artist and setting a new world record for the most expensive painting ever sold in a Russian art sale,” said Tiesenhausen.

Also significant was the sale of Portrait of Aleksandr Tikhonov by Yuri Annenkov for £4 million, marking the third time that this portrait has made a world record for the artist at Christie’s.

“We are now seeing Russian masterpieces achieving the prices they deserve on the international stage,” said said Tiesenhausen.  ”The Russian Works of Art section, led by a Fabergé study of cornflower sold for £314,500, performed very well across all categories, demonstrating the maturity and resilience of this market. Rare items with exceptional provenance continue to generate competitive bidding internationally.”