NEW YORK CITY — “Overall the sale went very well,” stated auctioneer Gene Shapiro in regards to his recent Russian and international fine arts and antiques auction. “We sold more than $3 million of fine art; it was definitely the strongest sale we have had to date.” Operating from his gallery on the Upper East Side, the auctioneer said the sale was attended by a good-sized crowd, yet it was the international buyers bidding by telephone that added the punch to the November 16 auction.
Shapiro reported bidders from 30 different countries taking part in the auction, most on the telephone, and well over 300 people bidding online. Sales to buyers in the gallery were also strong in the $30/40,000 range; lots that sold above that typically went to the phones, he said. A huge contingent of Russian and Ukrainian buyers participated in the auction, with all of the top lots going their way. Bidders from Germany, United Kingdom, United States, Mexico, China and Lithuania also bought heavily.
“We are taking advantage of the strength of the Russian art market, and there is a lot of good Russian art that is coming out of American collections right now,” said Shapiro. “Not only did all of the [Nikolai Konstantinovich] Roerichs sell, but the contemporary works also did well. It is as if there is a big rush for good contemporary Russian art again,” he said. “The market went down for contemporary Russian art for a while, but it is back, maybe because of the general strength of the contemporary market where the sales are bringing in so much money.”
The stars of the auction, consigned from two private collections, were a series of early works by Roerich, six from one collection and two from another, that were owned by the Roerich Museum in New York City until 1935 when the museum closed. The collection then became the property of Roerich’s main benefactor Louis Horch, and they remained in his collection until they were gradually dispersed over time.
The top lot of the auction was the first of the Roerich paintings to be offered, an early tempera and pastel on board titled “Dary,” a scene depicting a palatial setting in front of a Russian village. “It was a seminal work, one of his earliest, and it was published in so many different books and in a lot of important exhibitions,” said Shapiro. “Most Roerichs that have come onto the market for the past 10 to 20 years have been from the 1920s and 1930s. This one was special because it was from 1909.”
The popularity of the artist is widespread in Russia, explained the auctioneer, “He is the most important Russian artist of the Twentieth Century, every Russian knows him. Roerich is not just an artist, he is almost a mystical figure to some people, a philosopher. A lot of people around the world believe that his work represents more than just art, that it is somewhat spiritual in nature. To them he was like a guru. And now that there is more money in Russia, people there are pursuing more philosophical lifestyles. Roerich is an artist whose market has been very strong for the past three to four years.”
Every phone line in the auction house had a bidder on it as Roerich’s “Dary” crossed the auction block, and bids came fast and furious, with the lot hammering down to a Russian buyer at $768,000. The next lot would also cause quite a bit of commotion, as another early work from 1917, “Lake Hympola” was offered. “It is also illustrated in early Roerich literature and is typical of what buyers know about Roerich,” said Shapiro, “with strong pastel colors and geometric landscapes. It was just a beautiful piece.” The vibrant tempera and pastel on board did well, selling at the high end of estimates at $300,000.
Roerich’s landscape, “Tulola,” another colorful tempera and pastel on board, again listed a long exhibition history and had been in the collections of Brandeis University and the Tulola Riverside Museum collection. The telephone bidders actively pursued this lot as well, with it selling at $480,000.
Other Roerich works included “Mont Blanc” at $120,000; “Study of Arizona,” $96,000; “Tangla” at $144,000; and a group of Roerich literature and objects brought $60,000.
“Ukrainian artwork and Ukrainian buyers are back in the market, and they are very active,” related Shapiro. Two paintings by Adalbert Erdelyi more than doubled their presale estimates as Ukrainian bidders repatriated the works. “Still Life 1955,” an oil on canvas was bid well past the $8/12,000 estimates as it sold for $26,400; the same price was paid for “River in Uzhhorod” that had come from the collection of Monsignor Basil Shereghy.
Other works by Ukrainian artists included an Aleksei Vasilievich Gritchenko oil titled “Le Chateau Blanc Sous L’Orage” that shot past the $7/9,000 estimates to bring $18,000, and “La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar” went out at $10,200. “Gritchenko is highly sought-after. We had five phone bidders on each one and they both sold to a Ukrainian buyer. He is an artist who is in high demand,” said Shapiro.
Other notable sales included an early David Burliuk oil on canvas board titled “Stroudsburg.” The rare painting, in an Impressionistic style, sold above estimates at $16,800. “Tea Party with Samovar,” an oil in the style most people associate with Burliuk, brought $9,600.
A group of three drawings by Russian artist Pavel Filonov soared past its estimate as numerous phone bidders chased the lot. “Filonov was part of a group of Russian painters known as Futurists. They were the most important avant-garde of the Russian artists. He had a really specific style, kind of primitive but influenced by Cubism and other things that were going on around that time.” The three drawings carried a presale estimate of $10/15,000 and included a self-portrait, a composition with two figures and one depicting heads. The drawings, circa 1915, went back to Russia after a winning bid of $72,000 was executed.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, 212-717-7500 or www.geneshapiro.com.