On December 2 Sotheby’s offered a dozen items of Fabergé decommissioned from the Brooklyn Museum in New York. The ensemble was valued at £1-£1.4 million, but pulled in £3.3m. My felicitations to Sotheby’s on a mind-boggling result!
I can hardly believe the £934,600 paid for the 9-inch Balletta Vase by Michael Perchin, crafted from a single piece of smoky quartz on a 72-carat fairly simple gold base. The vase was interesting, had great provenance (a gift from the Tsar’s uncle), but…I thought the £250,000 reserve was excessive. I was proved excessively wrong!
Two flowers with gold stems and nephrite leaves, in their rock crystal vases, were quite average, nothing fantastic – unlike their results: £426,400, over double the high-estimate, for the Mistletoe with moonstone berries; and £462,700 for the Dandelion seed-head. That was over three times the high estimate. So was the £402,200 paid for the puny lapis lazuli Wigström clock – another stunning result.
I had a good look at the eight tiny, humorous carved animals. Five of them were wonderful, and so were their results – led by £176,400 for the nephrite Bull and £151,200 for the hissing, aggressive Cat (my favourite). The barking Dog and chalcedony Goat Kid both fetched £138,600. As for the two tiny, netsuke-like creatures: the citrine quartz Mouse sniffed its way to £119,700 and the obsidian Rabbit bobtailed to £100,800. The two Bear Cubs were nothing but mundane, but even so – the one in bowenite made £107,100, and the one in obsidian £94,500. All the animals sold for three times low-estimate.
Huge prices and such lavish spending reminded me of yesteryears when Russian departments of Sotheby’s and Christie’s pulled in mega dollars. Nobody has ever thought that the end is round the corner and this bacchanalia is only a fleeting phenomenon.
I’m hoping this terrific sale is not a one-off and will see the Fabergé market jump to new levels. Possibly the prices were due to the museum provenance, but come on! Who? What? Where? Why? The Brooklyn Museum is not exactly the Met, the Louvre or the Collection of the Queen of England….
Sotheby’s Picture Sale was not exactly short of Aivazovskys. All sold for robust prices – reflecting continued strong interest in the artist, and helping the auction amass a sizable total of £13.9 million.
A 1887 Shipwreck off the Black Sea Coast – a large and, to my mind, boring painting with brushwork typical of the master in old age – claimed £2.3m, nearly double low-estimate. The second big Aivazovsky, Columbus’ Farewell from 1892, made a slightly disappointing £1.04m, only squeaking past low-estimate with buyer’s premium included. His Carriage in a Storm and 1890 View of Sevastopol sold as expected for £100,800, his Ship by Moonlight for £75,600.
Somov’s Sleeping Lady in 18th Century Dress hit £1.13m – double top-estimate, plus change. A great artist and a great picture, so no surprises there. Siemiradzki’s spectacular Parnassus (1900) pulled in £680,500. I was a bit disappointed at that price as I thought the £600,000 top-estimate would be beaten hands-down. Repin’s ball-slashing Cossack brought a premium-inclusive £438,500, which means the hammer price was short of the £400,000 low-estimate. Two 18th century portraits, which I didn’t much like, sold for mid-estimate: Levitsky’s Count Ilya Bezborodko for £438,500 and Rokotov’s far smaller Peter III for £100,800.
I know ballet dancers are thin, but Korovin’s 1924 portrait of Vera Trefilova looked positively elongated. It was painted just after Diaghilev had lulled her out of retirement to prance for the Ballets Russes in Monte Carlo (where Korovin was designing sets). It fetched £547,000, which compares unfavourably with the £1.2m to Christie’s obtained for their Korovin, a girl on a garden bench. The two pictures were pretty much the same size and date, so why one should be worth twice as much as the other beats me.
Although Sergei Vinogradov’s Woman Seated on Steps (c.1915) had a bit of Korovin about it, I was amazed by its stupendous and optimistic £250,000-350,0000 estimate. To my disbelief it actually sold – for £302,400.
The ubiquitous Serebriakova was represented by a Moroccan Girl who made £100,800. I thought Morocco was usually stinking hot – but the poor girl was dolled up to the nines. Any attired girl by Serebriakova is hardly of interest to anybody. It’s the naked flesh of her daughter that attracts the lascivious ideas and lewd thoughts of horny collectors – witness the £682,500 paid at Christie’s for a peep of the nubile teenage temptress flashing her tits.
Nine lots by Konstantin Rozhdestvensky caught the eye of Avant-Garde collectors who have been starved of serious fare in recent times. The pictures were sold by the artist himself in the 1980s, to a Soviet curator in southern Siberia, which lent a bit of gloss to their indifferent artistic accomplishment. There was no rhyme or reason to the prices – these ranged from £63,000 up to £644,000 for a 1935 Grain Silo with a hint of Hopper and Nissky about it, and £523,000 for a 1931 Woman in Red with a passing resemblance to late Malevich.
A tiny 1909 Pokhitonov view of Paris sold on reserve for £100,800. Such pictures used to sell for far more. The same price rewarded Choultsé’s Snowy Sunset (1923) – I liked it, and hoped it would go higher. One of the two anaemic-looking Harlamoff girlies fetched a reasonable £47,900 but the other, with her incomprehensible £150,000-200,000 estimate, went nowhere.
So too, as I envisaged in my auction preview, did Goncharova’s Nuit d’Hiver and a Larionov Street Scene in Winter – two youthful works of scant merit. I didn’t understand their bullish estimates, and I wasn’t the only one. As expected, Petrov-Vodkin’s atypical Portrait of an African Boy didn’t sell, and nor did the motley array of 52 drawings and sketches by Brullov.