LONDON (AFP) –
A disappointing week of Russian art sales here appears to have marked the end of a frenzied buying spree by collectors from the former Soviet Union, whose fortunes have diminished with the stock markets.
London's top auction houses failed to reach even their lower estimates in four days of sales of paintings, religious icons, rare books and other valuables -- although these levels were set before the financial crisis.
"The market is undergoing a correction, which can be blamed on the crisis," Alexis de Tiesenhausen, international director of the Russia department at Christie's auction house, told AFP after the sales ended Thursday.
"There is still an interest in Russia art -- the masters are still selling," he said, but predicted the market as a whole would decline by 20 percent.
Sotheby's sold 25.2 million pounds (30.3 million euros) of Russian art this week, well below the minimum estimate of 30 million pounds and the 38.6 million made this time last year. A third of lots were left unsold.
There was no absence of fur-clad blondes and Russian chatter at the auction house's New Bond Street auction room on Monday, but those attending the evening sale of Russian art appeared to have lost their enthusiasm.
Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky's "View of Constantinople and the Bosphorus", estimated at 2.5 million pounds, failed to find a buyer.
The evening also saw the auctioneer, with an air of defeatism, sell "A Troika Leaving the Farmstead," an ink on paper work by an unknown artist, valued at between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds, for 13 pounds.
"It's boring, static," said one collector as he left the Sotheby's sale.
The story was the same at Christie's auction house, which sold 13.7 million pounds in its Russian sales this week. This is far removed from the record 44.9 million pounds garnered last November.
There were still a few success stories -- a painting by Natalia Goncharova, "Still Life with Watermelons", was the top seller over the four days, going for 1.55 million pounds.
Meanwhile, a "Reclining Nude" by her husband, Russian avant-garde artist Mikhail Larionov, fetched 1.38 million pounds, up from its lower estimate of 1.2 million pounds.
But the figures are far from those achieved in previous years, when the resources of Russia's oil and gas billionaires seemed unending, and the Rothschild Faberge egg could be sold at Christie's for nine million pounds.
Russian art, which barely existed for auction houses 10 years ago, has gone up by 90 percent worldwide in the past decade, according to the art insurer Hiscox.
But the Russian stock market has plummeted by 65 percent since the beginning of the year, taking many collectors' buying power with it.
"Given the current economic climate we are extremely pleased with the total achieved and have sold almost two thirds of the lots we offered for sale," Jo Vickery, head of Sotheby's Russia department, said nevertheless.
A collection of Faberge objects offered as presents from Russian Empress Maria Feodorovna to her younger sister, Princess Thyra of Denmark, passed their minimum estimated value and sold for 1.95 million pounds.