How will the Crimean Crisis affect the Russian Art Market?

Apr 2nd, 2014 | By | Category: Journal
Ousted President Viktor Yanukovych's House at Mezhyhirya

Ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s House at Mezhyhirya

The answer appears to be that, unless the situation escalates, the Russian art market is maintaining its upward trajectory as usual.  Should Russia continue its expansion into other areas other than the Crimea or should the US impose more meaningful sanctions on Russia then the art market will indeed suffer.   Those with business interests in Russia are nervously monitoring the situation knowing that if US sanctions intensify then Russia will retaliate.  Hence the more measured response of those countries with significant ties to Russia such as Germany and the United Kingdom.

Certain Ukrainian collectors, those associated with the ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych, may have lost some of their art as they fled from the Ukraine.  Yanukovych reportedly removed some his art collection which, according to the Moscow Times, is on its way to his new residence, an estate on Moscow’s Rublyovskoye Shosse.  Yanukovych has just joined the Putin Administration as an advisor on Ukraine.  The Kremlin property department official, who is supervising Yanukovych’s move into his new residence commented, “We are expecting a shipment of art and vintage furniture smuggled out of the Mezhyhirya estate residence at any moment.”

However Yanukovych also left behind some of his collection at Mezhyhirya which has been repossessed by the Ukrainian State. According to Ukraine’s TSN television channel, this collection will shortly be exhibited at the Art Museum of Ukraine and includes Vasili Polenov’s ‘He that is without Sin,’ 1908, which was bought from Bonhams in London in November 2011 for a record price of pounds 4.1m, against an estimate of pounds 600,000 – 800,000.  The painting formed part of a monumental set of 60 paintings completed over 2 decades that depicts the Life of Christ.  The series was only exhibited once in Russia, in 1909.  It was then due to travel on the Titanic to America but had a lucky escape due to a shipment delay.  The work depicts a woman awaiting Christ’s judgement for her sin of adultery.  Christ asks the crowd for those, “who are without sin throw the first stone.”  A very Christian message of forgiveness that resonated with Polenov and possibly with Yanukovych as well.  Despite only receiving a salary of Euros 15,000 a year Yanukovych appears to have found a way to collect some expensive art.

Vasili Polenov's, 'He that is without Sin,' 1908, sold at Bonhams, London,  for pounds 4.1m in November 2011.

Vasili Polenov’s, ‘He that is without Sin,’ 1908, sold at Bonhams, London, for pounds 4.1m in November 2011.

The Art Newspaper revealed that Yanukovych was a good client of the London-based auction house MacDougalls and an invoice from them for pounds 170,000 dated 2010 was found at his estate.  Works brought from them included Victor Resanoff’s ‘By the Water Mill’, 1866 (pounds 72,144) and an 1810 pair of candelabra by Pierre – Philippe Thomire (pounds 50,869).  The sales were arranged in the name of a ‘Mr Nikolay Belousov’ and William MacDougall said his staff had not visited the estate and confirmed the purchases were not made in Yanukovych’s name.  MacDougalls, who have built up a good client base in Ukraine, will most probably be more affected by the crisis than Sotheby’s or Christie’s.

Many Russians have been puzzled by the hostility of the reaction of the West to the Crimean situation pointing out that the Crimea was Russian from 1783 to 1954 and the people have voted to rejoin Russia.  Crimea has housed the Russian Black Sea Fleet since 1783 and it was inconceivable for Putin to allow the naval base of Sevastopol to come under NATO command.  Whilst many US commentators including Hilary Clinton have described Putin’s actions in annexing Crimea as comparable to Hitler others have been more measured including Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt who said Putin’s actions were “perfectly understandable” and the US sanctions were “foolish.”

President’s Putin and Obama are apparently talking again on the telephone as of last Friday and it seems unlikely Putin would want to take over half of Ukraine with its massive debts.    The Western banks, particular those in Austria (Raffeisen has over 800 branches in Ukraine), seem the most exposed to the crisis in the short-term.  The Annexation of Crimea seems a done deal and it is what happens next, if anything, that will determine how the Russian art market is affected.




Tags: Crimean Crisis, Mezhyhirya Estate, President Viktor Yankovych art collection, Russian art market., Vasili Polenov 'He that is without Sin'

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