WHEN REPORTING on Russian Week last December, I predicted that the London auction-houses might soon be looking at changes in approach to counter the current slump.
Now MacDougall’s are doing just that.
Their foray into Photography, which gets underway at 2:00pm on Saturday May 21, is partly down to lateral thinking, partly down to opportunism.
The opportunity was provided by a ‘major European private collection’ that recently came their way. It includes Russian material, but not exclusively: the May sale will also feature six rare daguerreotype views of Cairo and Rome from the early 1840s by pioneering French lensman Girault de Prangey (1804-92), expected to bring £20,000-30,000 apiece.
The lateral thinking sees MacDougall’s abandoning their unique identity as Russian-only specialists. That could be a risk – but one they feel will justified if it entices potential new buyers into their saleroom.
They have hired seasoned photography professional Zelda Cheatle as their new head of department, banking on her wealth of experience as a dealer and curator rather than any specific association with Russian Photography. Again, one suspects, the intention here is to broaden their client-base.
The Russian material available on May 21 is entertainingly eclectic. The catalogue features a score of different photographers, accompanied by short biographies, and will serve as a useful introduction to 20th century Russian photography for those unfamiliar with it.
There will also be two public lectures on Russian Photography at MacDougall’s Mayfair showroom: by Catherine MacDougall on Thursday 12 May (6pm), in Russian; then, on Thursday 19 May (5pm), in English, by the legendary Olga Sviblova, head of the Moscow Multimedia Art Museum and undisputed Grande Dame of Russian Photography. I imagine the slightlier earlier start is to ensure Her Effervescent Loquaciousness is unstymied by time constraints, but don’t be surprised if she keeps going till closing time. Olga Sviblova is an event in herself.
The debut sale runs to 82 lots, of which 76 contain Russian interest.
A series of 22 hand-coloured photographs by Torwald Mitreiter – a compatriot of Princess Dagmar of Denmark, who married the future Tsar Alexander III a few months before Mitreiter took part in the 1867 Moscow Ethnographic Exhibition – feature studies of traditional costumes from around Eastern Europe (est. £1,500-2,000 each). Mitreiter worked in Russia until the late 1890s, and is represented today in the collection of the Russian Ethnographic Museum in St Petersburg.
Fourteen albumen prints (mounted on card) by Yuri Dutkevich show characters and scenes from life in western Ukraine (then part of Habsburg Galicia) in the late 19th century. The prints are divided equally into two lots of seven, each lot with an estimate of £1800-2000.
The sale features the work of no fewer than 19 Soviet photographers, with the highlight expected to be a 1936 album of 30 gelatin silver prints by Alexander Rodchenko, featuring (and dedicated to) his sister-in-law Tatiana Malyutina. The album is touted at £15,000-20,000.
Six gelatin silver prints (c.1925) by a youthful Solomon Telingater, depicting oil derricks in his native Baku, carry a combined estimate of £3500-5000.
Most of the other 50 lots in the sale, meanwhile, are individual prints (many, but not all, of them vintage) – with enticing estimates. They include still lifes by Alexander Khlebnikov; nudes by Alexander Grinberg and Latvia’s Gunars Binde; dreamy winterscapes by Leonid Shokin; a 1930s Kyrgyz horsewoman by Max Alpert (pictured top); war photographs by Baltermants, Khaldei, Riumkin and Markov-Grinberg; steamy industrial views of Magnitogorsk by Vadim Kovrigin; Bolshoi ballerinas by Georgy Petrusov; photographs of Yuri Gagarin by Goergy Zelma and Robert Diament; and a variety of Soviet scenes by Mikhail Grachev and Nikolai Beletsky.
The quality of the images varies, and some of the prints are slightly later ‘reprints’ rather than vintage. This does, however, mean some enticingly modest estimates, generally in the £1000-2000 range, which MacDougall’s hope will appeal to new collectors. ‘Aside from their intrinsic importance, photographs tend to be more affordable than paintings – and a good place for new collectors to start,’ as William MacDougall puts it.
MacDougall’s will also have a Photography section in their Russian Week sale on June 8, and plan at least two specialist Photography Sales annually from now on. ‘Our extension to the last area of Russia art that we had not been covering shows our continued confidence in the Russian market’ declares William MacDougall. ‘We are reacting swiftly, flexibly and imaginatively to a change in market circumstances.’
Good. Someone had to!
WHAT WOULD CATHERINE SAY ?
Vintage William: Plotting Debut with Photogenic Associate Director Tatiana Sapegina
anonymous digital print 250 x 150cm – estimate upon request
Please click here to download your PDF copy of the report.
Please click here for more details on the upcoming Photography Sale at MacDougall’s.
P.S. Please note that MacDougall’s wish to point out that the auction start-time has been amended from 10:30am to 2 o’clock in the afternoon.