A key reason for the increase on the £23.9m from the equivalent sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, MacDougall’s and Bonhams last year was the highest-ever price for a painting sold at a Russian art auction – a still-life by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin (1878-1939) that was knocked down at £8m.
The 2ft 7in x 2ft 2in (80 x 65cm) oil was signed with a monogram and dated 1928.
It had been exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1932 and was acquired in the same year by the Italian art critic and publisher Giovanni Scheiwiller, from whose descendants it was offered at Christie’s on June 3 with a £1m-1.5m estimate. The pitch was no doubt informed by the artist’s track record at auction which includes only three works selling for over this amount, including an earlier still-life that fetched £2.32m including fees at MacDougall’s in May 2012, the previous record.
Overall, Christie’s sale totalled £16.2m (including premium) with 249 of the 330 lots sold (75%). It was the firm’s highest-grossing Russian Art sale since 2014.
One of the strongest competitions in the works of art category came for a rare Soviet porcelain platter featuring a Modernist design by Stella Vengerovskaya.
The decoration of a figure rising above the crowd in a shipyard holding a hammer and cog dated from 1923 and was painted onto an 18in (46cm) pre-Revolutionary blank from 1910. It soared above a £20,000-30,000 estimate and was knocked down at £220,000, making a record for a piece of Soviet propaganda porcelain.
Sotheby’s staged a Russian picture sale and a separate works of art auction on June 4, generating a combined £12.38m. The top lot was a still-life by Mikhail Fedorovich Larionov (1881-1964) that made £1.8m (estimate: £1m-1.5m).
MacDougall’s Russian art auction the next day raised £5.35m (including fees) and was led by Boris Kustodieva’s (1878-1927) Bakhchisarai, a painting from 1917 of a Tatar bazaar in Crimea and described as ‘the artist’s only large-scale homage to an Oriental theme’. It was knocked down at £1.25m (estimate £1.2m-1.8m).
Bonhams’ sale on the same day totalled £1.94m, topped by a portrait of a young girl by Philip Andreevich Maliavin (1869-1940) which sold below hopes at £250,000.
A better response came for a group of Fabergé hardstone animals bought from London dealer Wartski by Caroline, Lady Oppenheimer (1899- 1971) and consigned by a direct descendant. A jewelled nephrite frog pillbox (£180,000) and a grey agate mouse set with silver-mounted diamonds (£140,000) both made multi-estimate sums.