«There exist many painterly manners. However, it is not the manner that matters, but the ability to see beauty» (Alexei Savrasov, the painter)

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Buy Russian Art

The price for Russian realistic art may grow two- or three-folds in the coming years

The recent sharp rise of prices for Russian art of the 19th –20th centuries has bewildered art connoisseurs. Sceptics argue that there are too few good paintings while imitations are available in plenty. More, they say, western artists surpass the Russian ones in skill and idea as a rule. However, some art collectors are sure that Russian paintings have good potential and bright prospects.  

“I do not consider Russian art secondary to European one. Today, there exists a much greater demand for Russian than for European art (at least in this country).  Russian painters are underestimated now, although the future belongs to them,” argues Alexander Kotelevsky, producer and chief executive of the Real-Dakota film studios. When some three years ago he, together with his friends, decided to start a private mono-collection of Russian realistic art based on one or two names, it was evident that they would have to give up a challenge to collect big names. “It was unlikely to build up a collection of Shishkin, Zhukovsky, Levitan or Polenov, which could be representative of different stages of their artistic life, for all important paintings by those artists have long been part of some museum or private collections. Besides, high-quality pictures are very rare on the market,” Kotelevsky says.  

More, the bigger the name, the greater risk you run to get a fake or a wrong attribution. “If you see a unique picture that an old lady has just brought from her attic, I would never recommend buying this thing without a proper attribution. Painters used to live like a community going out together to have plein-air sessions. They often corrected and finished the painting of one another. Pupils used to copy the paintings of the masters. To solve those riddles is the task of art historians, but, to my great regret, there are practically no professionals in Russia who are ready to take responsibility for their expertise,” claims the art collector. 

Of all diversity of genres Kotelevsky and his partners have chosen Russian realistic landscape. “Our choice is of rather an emotional than material character. We just like this kind of art,” he explains. To handle the matter professionally, the co-collectors set up the Art Prima Gallery, which owns a collection of over one thousand canvases today. They are Russian realistic paintings of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 

The art collectors first paid tribute to the painters of the 1930s–1940s, then passed on to collecting the contemporary ones, romanticists in realistic art, who, they think, have inherited the traditions of Peredvizhniks [Wanderers], the Union of Russian Artists and the Soviet academic school of painting.  

“We have chosen a few dozens of artists who represent the academic school of the Soviet period, such as Arkady Plastov, Vladimir Stozharov, Sergei Gerasimov, and also Viktor Tsyplakov, Nikita Fedosov, Efrem Zverkov among others. In contrast to the nineteenth or early twentieth century the Soviet period offers a much greater choice. The Art Prima collection also incorporates paintings by fourteen contemporary artists whose association, Romanticists in Realistic Art, was founded in 1974 and who, among others, include Vladimir Shcherbakov, Valery Strakhov, Mikhail Abakumov,” explains Kotelevsky. For a couple of years the collection has tripled its value. By the way, art historians and art market experts are puzzled why art-concerned investors ignore Russian realistic art of the 1930s–1940s. Some explain it with the apathy of the Western art markets which influence Russian market too. The West is known to have rather weird judgment of Russian art: in the priority list the names of Ilya Repin, Konstantin  Makovsky, Valentin Serov and Konstantin Korovin are immediately followed by Russian avant-garde – Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, Kazimir Malevich, Marc Chagall and Alexandra Ekster – and then by non-conformists. That is why Soviet painters of the 1930s–1970s rarely appear at art auctions. 

Like, for example, Ode to Spring by Alexander Deineka that was sold for $240 thousand at Sotheby’s in 2004 and Midday by Alexei and Sergei Tkachev got $130 thousand at Sotheby’s in 2005. However, such instances are rather exceptions, even for painters of their rank. Others – Yuri Pimenov, Sergei Gerasimov, Vasily Nechitailo, Alexei Gritsai or Arkady Plastov – make even more rare appearance at the renowned art auctions in the West.  

Another cause of Realism being ignored even by Russian art collectors even in the Soviet time was the system of state orders or state purchase that was designed to support exclusively those artists who were loyal to the regime and adhered Socialist Realism. Only such painters were trusted to produce important, large-scale canvases. Those paintings were very expensive and, commissioned by the state, were immediately purchased by the state agencies responsible for art.  

Kotelevsky thinks that today’s situation is different: “Paintings by Arkady Plastov, my favourite,  whose Kolkhoz festivals, akin to the impressionistic manner of Konstantin Korovin’s Boulevard Vichy, could be purchased at $5–7 thousand some three years ago. Now they are being sold by his heirs at no less than $20–30 thousand. There is another reason why Plastov is interesting to collect. His heritage is huge: there are a lot of his high-quality paintings on the market, fully completed and signed, to say nothing about hundreds of his studies.”  

Alexander Kotelevsky is sure that some contemporary Russian realistic painters are similarly advantageous to invest money in. “The basic argument for acquiring paintings by contemporary artists now,” he says, “is possibility to purchase them from the painters themselves and for relatively modest money. Some three years ago, for example, a study by Mikhail Abakumov could be bought for $500 while now its price may be $1.5–$2 thousand. Since paintings by Alexei Sukhovetsky were put for sale in some US galleries, their prices have grown up from $2–3 thousand to $10 –15 thousand.”

Another argument for investing in contemporary Russian Realism, according to art connoisseurs, is their present-day modest prices as compared to Actualism, though the perspectives of realistic paintings on antique art markets being more promising than those of actualistic art.   

“I am deeply convinced that most actualistic artists of today have come out of “star factories”, being the product of the gallery owners’ and art dealers’ PR. Most of those so-called artists do not know how to hold a pencil in the hand. On the contrary, the high quality of contemporary Russian realistic paintings is a guaranty of their possibility to come down in history of art. They are beyond any whims of fashion. More, the true talent and hard work also count,” Kotelevsky concludes.