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Russian giants of the art world Roerich and Faberge top Bonhams £6.2 million sale
Nikolai Roerich, 'Signal Fires of Peace' sold for £1,426,500. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Bonhams Russian Sale realised £6.2million yesterday (4th June) in London. Particularly strong interest came from buyers on the saleroom floor at the newly built headquarters on Bond Street.

The highest price was achieved by Signal Fires of Peace by Nikolai Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947), which sold to buyer in the room for £1,426,500. This Roerich masterpiece was painted in 1917-18 and draws attention to the early years of Roerich's career. It is inspired by the artist's reflections on the Russian Revolution and infused with his characteristic symbolism. Having been stripped of its original title, the work disappeared for a long time from the sight of scholars and collectors but now, returns triumphantly to the art world.

Nikolai Roerich painted Signal Fires of Peace in 1917-1918 while in Karelia, a town in Northern Russia near the Finnish border. He was captivated by the beauty of Northern Europe, drawing inspiration from Scandinavian legends. This formative period in the artist's career coincided with World War I, two Russian revolutions and subsequent civil war. Destruction and social chaos was unleashed on Russia. Roerich observed the turmoil from a distance in the peaceful calm of the North and there he created a series of works unified thematically by the presence of warlike red cloaked riders and military combat scenes. Signal fires of peace is a culmination of this series, being the largest in size and the only work painted on canvas.

Bonhams set the world record for the most valuable Russian painting ever to be sold in a Russian auction when Nikolai Roerich's Madonna Laboris sold for £7.9million in June 2013.

The second highest price at yesterday's sale was realised by a 1913 Fabergé figure of a bourgeoise lady, crafted in semi-precious stones, which was secured for £1,202,500 by Wartski who fended off strong competition from international buyers in the room. The figure near tripled its pre-sale estimate and achieved the highest price for a female hardstone genre figure by Fabergé.

The bourgeoise lady with sapphire eyes wears an oversized quartzite coat, onyx fur trimming, lapis scarf, jasper boots and has an expressive opal face. Fabergé genre figures rendered in hardstone were as rare as Fabergé eggs as only around 50 were produced. The figures included caricatures of typical Russian types; street vendors, dancers, and even drunks.

Sophie Law, Director of Russian Art at Bonhams said, "We are thrilled with the results of the sale which once again demonstrate the demand for rare pieces from private collections with exceptional provenance. Buyers are prepared to pay double, even triple, the estimate for the very best pieces making this a buoyant and exciting market".

The sale also set a new record price for a service of Imperial banqueting Glass by Monighetti. This important service from an important British collection fetched over £900,000, tripling its pre-sale estimate, after continued and competitive bidding from international buyers in the room and on the telephones.

Other highlights included a majestic marine work by Ivan Aivazovsky, A Russian two-master on the open sea, which realised £158,500 against estimates of £70,000-£90,000 as it sold to a mystery bidder telephone. A Fabergé jewelled enamel and agate pill box sold for £122,500 and a Faberge guilloché enamel and pearl-set desk clock sold for £104,500.

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