London auction scene sold on Russian art

London’s main auction houses are hosting a whole week of sales of Russian pieces, ranging from paintings to medals to Faberge animals to a collection of articles only identified as belonging to “a European royal family.”

It’s a Russian art attack and there’s no shortage of buyers.

"Everybody who is interested in Russian art is in town,” said Alexis De Tiesenhausen, international department head at Christies. “Collectors from England, collectors from Russia – I think it’s the best proof, the best example of how important this Russian art week is in London.”

Artie McFerrin is a private Faberge collector from Houston, Texas. He’s in London specially to buy Russian art, and got his hands on the top lot in the royal collection at Christies – for a cool $166,000.

"A 2 or 3 inches high nephrite egg with a gold band around it with a little diamond… It’s kind of the highest form of art – nothing before Faberge or since Faberge has ever equaled that quality anywhere in the world really," said McFerrin.

It’s not just Faberge that’s selling. Some of the hottest lots this week have been more contemporary Russian art. A painting by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin had a guide price of half a million dollars, but sold for more than $2.6 million. The same was true down the road at Bonhams, where two 1960s portraits, one of Russian dissident Alec Guinsberg, fetched around $200,000.

"Russian contemporary art, non-conformist works, have really taken to the fore and have been our top lots this year, and as I mentioned we could see the trend coming, but it’s the first time it’s happened for us,” said Sophie Hamilton of the Russian Department at Bonhams. “Russians are still buying a hell of a lot, and they’re eager for fresh lots, and they’ve got cash to burn and they certainly do burn it.”

Auction houses say public figures like Dasha Zhukova, the girlfriend of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, have done a lot to bring this kind of Russian art onto the international stage, though it’s still common to hear Russian spoken on the streets around the auction houses during the week.

Russian Art Week has become an institution in London, with buyers flooding in from all over the world. And there’s certainly no sign of a double dip recession, at least not amongst those who have a quarter of a million dollars to spend on a jewel-encrusted Faberge turkey.