Indeed, the credit crunch in Russia has been particularly severe, with a 65 per cent drop in the Russian stock market over the last six months, while Ukrainian buyers, who had been becoming an increasing force, appear to have been kicked into touch by the currency mayhem gripping their economy.
The top lots that sold generally did so around low estimate amid persistent mutterings that reserves were over-ambitious – partly because most lots had been entered before the autumn recession, and partly due to increasingly fierce competition between four firms, with Bonhams and Russian-only specialists MacDougall’s grappling with the big two for a slice of the pie.
Sotheby’s evening sale was the pick of the week, yielding a premium-inclusive £14.2m, to be a comparatively healthy 58 per cent sold by lot and 65 per cent by value.
A Larionov reclining nude led on £1.2m hammer, but the expected top-lot, an 1845 Aivazovsky View of Constantinople, was bought in bidless at £2.4m. One of the week’s few pleasant surprises saw Polenov’s 1876 Egyptian Girl sell for a treble-estimate £950,000 hammer to Moscow dealer Natalia Kournikova.
Goncharova posted Christie’s top price of the week with a short-of-estimate £1.35m hammer for her Still Life With Watermelons. There was gloom at Christie’s, where a silver tureen made for Catherine II was bought in at £250,000 against an estimate of £400,000, and overall sales totalled a premium-inclusive £13.75m compared to Sotheby’s £25.2m.
In terms of picture sales only, MacDougall’s, with a premium-inclusive total of £8.1m, just outsold Christie’s for the second time running, thanks partly to a group of 122 erotic ink drawings by Konstantin Somov that sold, well short of estimate, to a Moscow collector for £960,000 hammer.
But MacDougall’s had to face a whopping overall volume buy-in rate of 79 per cent. “Not as bad as feared,” said phlegmatic Director William MacDougall.
The lot buy-in rate at Bonhams, whose 244-lot sale brought a premium-inclusive of just £1.5m, was 64 per cent.
Russian private buyers remained dominant at the picture sales, and jam-packed salerooms suggest interest in the field remains strong, with significant trade buying for the works of art.
A 100-lot collection of objets d’art formerly owned by the Princess of Hanover was a near sell-out at Sotheby’s, bringing a premium-inclusive £1.95m, as was the the offering of 91 lots of Russian enamels from the Chen Collection sold by Lyon and Turnbull in Belgravia on Sunday November 23 for a premium-inclusive £3.6m.
By Simon Hewitt