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Russian art buyers more picky, UK sales hit target

 A general exterior view of Sotheby
A general exterior view of Sotheby's auction house on New Bond Street in London February 15, 2007. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty
— image credit: Reuters

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Russian art sales in London this week reflected what auction houses conceded was a "new reality" in the once-booming market, with hammer prices generally meeting targets but revenues down sharply on a year ago. Sotheby's dominated the "mid-season" sales, and their series of auctions raised 17.7 million pounds ($29 million), within the expected range of 15-22 million pounds although the tally includes the buyer's premium whereas estimates do not.

The final total, however, was less than half the 39.7 million pounds raised at the same time in 2008, reflecting more cautious buying during the global recession and reluctance among sellers to part with works of art now the market has cooled.

"Whilst it is clear that our clients are more selective than ever before in the new reality, they are prepared to compete tenaciously for works of high quality that are both fresh to the market and rare," said Jo Vickery, head of the Russian art department in London.

She added that demand had been strongest for "traditional and classical art" from the 19th and early 20th century.

At Sotheby's main sale on Monday, the top lot was "The Village Fair" by Boris Kustodiev, which fetched 2.8 million pounds including premium, an auction record for the artist and above estimates of 1.0-1.5 million pounds.

Another oil painting, "Nanny With Children" by Isaak Brodsky dated 1912, also set an auction record for the artist when it sold for 937,250 pounds, around twice its estimate.

The work was acquired in the 1950s by a collector in Italy who believed he was buying a long-lost work by Claude Monet.

GIANT VASES

The auction house also sold a pair of imperial porcelain vases dated 1848 for 2.6 million pounds, versus a pre-sale estimate of 1.2-1.8 million.

Russian art specialists MacDougall's raised 7.1 million pounds at its sale on Thursday, slightly above its pre-sale low estimate of 6.5 million.

The auction house said the total included a new auction record for artist Ilya Repin of 1.4 million pounds, smashing the previous best of 350,000 pounds set in 2006.

"Though it has not yet reached its peak of a year ago, the market is in recovery from it's winter blues, and some better works are even surpassing their pre-crisis peaks," said director William MacDougall.

The company raised a further 526,000 pounds at its inaugural Russian icon sale held on Monday.

Christie's held its main Russian auction of the week on Tuesday, and raised 4.1 million pounds, in line with expectations but well down on the 11.3 million of 2008.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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