Russian Art Tops $1 Million At Gene Shapiro Auctions

NEW YORK CITY — A prime selection of Russian artworks was offered once again at Gene Shapiro Auctions, with strong international attention resulting in premium prices paid throughout the sale. Conducted on May 18 at Shapiro’s Upper East Side gallery, bidders from around the world participated, with a huge number of Russian phone bidders competing with “bidders from across America, the Ukraine, Israel, China, London, Germany and virtually all of the European countries,” according to auctioneer Gene Shapiro.  

“The auction went really well, I was very pleased with the results,” commented Shapiro, who added that sales totals exceeded $1 million. “We had a great collection of Russian icons that attracted a huge amount of interest. Books did well, as did Russian contemporary art. At times we had as many as 13 phone bidders competing for individual lots,” said the auctioneer.

Attracting a huge amount of attention was a collection of Russian icons that had been collected by two American women during the 1920s, shortly after the Russian Revolution. The women, Adelaide and Helen Hooker, New York socialites, were said by Shapiro to be “searching for a glimpse of Old Russia. The women sought out ancient churches and monasteries just as they were being taken over by the government and turned into anti-religious museums” and purchased the icons, “in effect saving them from becoming victims of iconoclasm.” The grouping of more than 20 icons from the collection had descended in the family and were being offered for the first time.

“The fact that these came from an American collection of Russian culture created interest from all over the world, especially among Russians,” said Shapiro. “The Russian market is looking for good, fresh material and they appreciate good provenance. I knew the results were going to be good based on the amount of presale interest we received, but I was still surprised at how high many of them sold above estimates.”

The first lot of the sale would set the tone for the day as a Russian icon of Spas Oplenchnii soared past the $1,8/2,200 estimate to sell at $6,000.

Leading the way from the collection was a Seventeenth Century Russian Deisis icon depicting the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist and Christ, 223/8 by 17¼ inches, in egg tempera on a wood panel. Shapiro commented that the piece was beautifully and intricately executed, calling it a masterpiece. Estimated at $2/3,000, the lot took off, selling to a Russian phone bidder at $38,400.

Another work to capture the attention of collectors was an Eighteenth Century Russian icon depicting Pokhvala Bogoroditsi (In Thee Rejoiceth) with a metal oklad that soared to $37,200.

Other icons to do well from the Hooker collection included an Eighteenth Century scene of the Transfiguration that sold at ten times the estimate, bringing $15,600, and one of Nikolai Mozhaisky with a metal oklad that went to $18,000.

Classic Russian and European paintings saw continued active bidding from the bidders participating in the auction, with a work by Armenian artist Georgy Zakharovich Bashinzhagyan becoming the top lot of the auction. Described by Shapiro as “the most important and sought-after Armenian artist,” the early work was fresh to the market coming directly from a private New Jersey collection. Depicting one of the most important scenes, Mount Ararat, the painting was signed in Cyrillic and dated 1911. With 13 phone bidders competing for the lot, the painting sold at the high estimate of $60,000, going to a collector of Armenian art in Russia.

Another of the top lots among the paintings was a contemporary oil on canvas by Komar and Melamid from an industrial series of works from the late 1980s. “Komar has received a lot of press lately after a photo of a chimp in Red Square sold for $77,000 recently,” stated Shapiro. The painting, titled “Brass Foundry,” was not only sought after by Russian clients, but also captured the attention of international collectors. With a long exhibition list and impressive provenance, the painting sold after spirited bidding for $42,000.

Another of the top lots was “Seated Nude by Mirror” by Sergei Ivanovich Lobanov, an oil on board from 1910, that sold to the phones at $31,200.

A winter scene titled “The Pub” by Konstantin Alekseevich Korovin depicted jovial men in the snow and on the porch of a local establishment, along with horse-drawn sleighs. The colorful oil on board sold at $28,800.

“After the Harvest,” an Impressionist scene of a homestead amid fields of harvested wheat by Konstantin Ivanovich Gorbatov, was another lot to attract attention, selling for $21,600, while a river view with bridge and buildings by Alexis Gritchenko titled “Le Pont Napoleon” from 1922 realized $28,800.

Printed matter was a relatively new category for Shapiro and the selection included a good assortment of Russian books and literature. The lot attracting the most attention was a deluxe edition of Theodore de Pauly’s 1862 volume Description ethnographique des Peuples de la Russie. The book was filled with color chromolithographs and was a presentation copy dedicated by the author to Emperor Alexander II and published on the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of the Russian Empire. Shapiro commented that a “deluxe edition of this magnificent work has not appeared at auction before.” Bidding on the lot was active; it was claimed by a Russian buyer for $55,200.

The Catalog of my Collection of Russian Engraved and Lithographed Portraits, by A.V. Morozov in four volumes from 1913 also did well, selling at $31,200, while the complete 30-plate folio comprising Eine Nachlese by Gustav Klimt surpassed estimates, bringing $10,800.

The wide selection of decorative art included an ornately decorated Nineteenth Century silver Georgian wine vessel with a twisted neck that proved to be popular with collectors. From 1859, the unusual decanter marked Tiflis tripled estimate, selling at $4,500. Another highlight was a Russian imperial porcelain cup and saucer from the period of Nicholas II, hand painted shortly after the collapse of the empire in 1919 by Alexandra Schekatikhina-Pototskaya. The rare piece presented an unusual connection between two key periods of Russian history. Active bidding on the lot took it to $3,600.

Portrait miniatures also did well, including likenesses of Tsars Nicholas I and Alexander II by Iwan Winberg, that sold for $18,000 and $14,400, respectively.

Contemporary artist Mihail Chemiakin was represented at the auction by works in a variety of media, including pastel, oil, and bronze. Two bronzes from his “Carnival at Saint Petersburg” series achieved more than triple their estimate, selling at $36,000. Bronzes by Evgeny Alexandrovich Lanceray also sold well, with “Fallen Arab, His Horse Immobilized Next To Him” going out well above estimate at $13,200.

A gouache by Jean Dufy, originally exhibited at the James Vigeveno Galleries in Los Angeles, sold for $11,400. A group of four works by Rimma and Leonid Brailowsky, acquired directly from the descendants of the artists and belonging to their series of works titled “Visions of Old Russia,” drew a large audience, selling between $7,800 and $11,400 each.

The next sale at Gene Shapiro Auctions is scheduled to take place on July 13, in Kent, Conn., with a focus on American art, including artists such as Guy Wiggins, Ammi Phillips and Hugh Bolton Jones. For further information, contact Gene Shapiro at or 212-717-7500.

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