Published: May 17, 2011
Russian Art Week captured collectors’ attention in the Big Apple in mid-April, with sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s and Gene Shapiro’s East 74th Street salesroom that he inaugurated last November. With the week’s focus on all-things-Russian, Shapiro’s April 16 auction offered up a trove of paintings, bronzes, icons, enamel, silver, porcelain, rare books and maps, swords and militaria, posters and works on paper †more than 400 lots in all and mostly fresh to the market.
The sale’s top lot, a collection of 82 pieces of imperial porcelain from the Babigon Service, with both Nicholas I and Nicholas II hallmarks that brought $38,400, came from a private collection. In a phone interview following the sale, Shapiro underscored the importance of private American collections as a source for his sales. And the example he used, a Russian icon depicting St Nikolai Chudotvorets and St Christopher with scenes from their lives, a second half of the Sixteenth Century piece with elaborate basmany oklad that soared from its $4/6,000 estimate to bring $33,600, was indicative of many other Russian applied and decorative arts lots that did well.
“Some of the best material in this sale came from two American families,” said Shapiro. One family consisted of grandchildren of a diplomat in the Italian embassy to the Soviet Union who had purchased items from special stores in the 1930s that catered to the diplomatic corps and tourists as a means to gain hard currency. The abovementioned porcelain service and icon came from this consignor.
Another American private collection, Shapiro explained, stemmed from the heirs of Dr Adolphus S. Rumreich, who served as the physician at the US embassy in Moscow from 1935 to 1938. “While there, he and his wife, Edna Irene Hall Rumreich, assembled a sizable collection of Russian pre-Revolutionary art and books then being sold by the Soviet government. They often accompanied Ambassador Joseph Davies and his wife, Marjorie Merriweather Post, when they visited Torgsin and other Soviet agencies selling antiques to foreign dignitaries,” said Shapiro.
Exemplifying the compelling nature of items from this collection was a geographical atlas of the Russian empire, printed in 1800 in St Petersburg, that achieved $20,400, although initially estimated at $4/6,000. It went to a Russian collector.
Surprising on the upside as well was a coronation album of Anna Ionnovna, empress of Russia. It was valued at $4/6,000, but achieved a strong $16,800.
Also fresh to the auction gallery was a collection of examples of imperial headgear, most from the Life-Guards regiments at the height of the Russian empire’s splendor. Leading the lineup of headgear was a rare Russian imperial Nicholas I era parade “misiurka” helmet of his imperial majesty’s own Caucasian-Mountains’ Life-Guards Half-Squadron konvoi escort. The helmet settled down firmly within estimate at $36,000.
Certainly, Shapiro acknowledged, a thirst to acquire high quality items that are richly steeped in the history of Mother Russia contributes to their desirability, as also was the case with a Russian imperial Polish Rebellion-era silver regimental trumpet, a rarely seen large silver presentation piece that was decorated with a silk ribbon of the order of St George and silver tassels. The trumpet was bestowed on the Life-Guards Atamsky Cossack regiment for excellence while pacifying the Polish rebellion of 1830″1. The trumpet had minor dents and some patina, but its overall superb original condition pushed it to $31,200.
As the market for Russian decorative and applied arts develops, Shapiro is seeing opportunity in sourcing more of the excellent examples that were presented to buyers in the sale. A gilded silver and onyx charka from the Seventeenth Century, 4½ inches long, garnered $18,000, while a Faberge silver-mounted nephrite bowl, the inside rim marked with the Faberge hallmark beneath the imperial warrant, 6¼ inches in diameter, went out at $12,000.
Paintings and artworks offered in the auction included Vyacheslav Kalinin’s (b 1939) “Girl from Playboy,” 1986, oil on canvas, 551/8 by 30¾ inches, signed lower left, which fetched $20,400. Perhaps not surprisingly, it, too, stemmed from the family of a private American collector who was purchasing works in the 1980s and 1990s. It had been exhibited at the retrospective exhibition of the artist at Nakhamkin Fine Arts in the 1980s and illustrated in the catalog accompanying the exhibition.
Two paintings by the Russian émigré artist Abraham Manievich (1881‱942) also came to the sale from a private American collection, one of a town view and the other an oil on canvas of a winter scene. They are prominently featured and highly accomplished works by the artist. Realizing $24,000 was “Quiet Autumn Day,” an oil on board that featured an unfinished street scene on verso. It measured 22 by 26 inches and was signed lower right.
Other Russian paintings that did well included Vladimir Nikolaevich Aralov’s (1893irca 1970) “Market at the Troice-Sergieva Lavra, Sergeyev Posad,” an oil on board, bringing $13,200.
While Shapiro, a Russian-born transplant himself, concentrates heavily on Russian art, he generally sprinkles a good selection of European, American and Latin American works into his sales. Such was the case in this auction, where such works complemented the offerings. A striking Op art piece from the prominent Colombian artist Omar Rayo did well, achieving $19,200, while a couple of gouaches by Polish American artist Arthur Szyk (1894‱951), one depicting “Hitler Caught,” 1942, and the other “Senior Constable Stalin,” 1937, finished at $9,000 and $7,800, respectively.
“While our emphasis is and always has been Russian art, great art transcends national boundaries, and many of our buyers share the same appreciation in their choices of what to collect,” said Shapiro.
Prices reported include the 20 percent buyer’s premium. The firm’s next sale will be conducted in the fall. For information, 212-717-7500 or www.geneshapiro.com .
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