By John Helmer, Moscow
A porcelain figurine (lead image, left) produced by the Popov Manufactory of Moscow sold in London on Wednesday for £2,700. The auction by MacDougalls revealed unusually strong demand from Russian collectors. They paid record prices for some figurines, including Tsar Nicholas I (right), from the Sipyagin Manufactory, who fetched £29,700. The pre-sale estimates for the dancing Kolomoisky and the tsar had been in the range of £2,000 to £3,000. Bidding interest in the tsar pushed him to a value almost ten times the estimate. According to Catherine MacDougall, co-director of the leading Russian art auction house, “it is the first mid-season sale outside the biannual Russian art week [in June]. We were very impressed by the result.”
There were 158 lots in the MacDougall’s auction, described in the catalogue as one of the most complete collections of the 19th century Russian pieces to have been assembled and then offered for sale. At origin, the porcelain figures were intended as decorations for home interiors, and as souvenirs of leading politicians, celebrities or military heroes of the day. According to house expert and curator, Olga Vaigatcheva, some of the well-known Russian porcelain manufactories also produced caricature designs for sale, ridiculing Napoleon during the War of 1812 and glorifying the Russian generals, soldiers and Cossacks who who defeated him. MacDougalls reports that more than 70% of the lots were sold, for a total of £531,833. For more on the Russian art market this week, click.
The Popov figurine sale was the only bright spot in the Ukrainian oligarch’s day after he was forced into a ritual humiliation before President Petro Poroshenko. Kolomoisky was obliged to watch, nodding and speechless, as Poroshenko signed the dismissal decree removing him from the governorship of Dniepropetrovsk, in eastern Ukraine.
The Financial Times, in an oleaginous tribute to Kolomoisky for “blocking the rebels’ advance” in eastern Ukraine, quoted a spokesman for rival Dniepropetrovsk oligarch, Victor Pinchuk, as saying the dismissal was “a correct, necessary and decisive act.” Pinchuk, whose steel business is on the verge of bankruptcy, is suing Kolomoisky in the London High Court in a dispute over an iron-ore combine in Dniepropetrovsk region. The trial of the claim has been delayed until next year. For the full story, read this.
The Financial Times also claims that Kolomoisky’s removal “threatens to plunge Ukraine into a fresh round of instability… [and] also risks playing straight into the hands of the Kremlin”. This was immediately repudiated by the State Department in Washington. Jen Psaki, the Department spokesman, confirmed that Kolomoisky’s removal had been intended by the US as a muscle-building exercise for Poroshenko and show of support for the Ukrainian security services. “Our view is this is an internal matter for Ukraine. Governors in Ukraine are appointed by the president. Removing a governor from power is well within the authority of President Poroshenko, and obviously, as we’ve seen from reporting, that’s the case here.”
A source in Kiev reports “there is a strong undercurrent of resentment against [Kolomoisky], notably in the army, which doesn’t wish to see [Right Sector Dmitry] Yarosh’s plan to train his own troops (he definitely sold out to Kolomoisky) in a separate training centre, independently from the army. Of course, the [army leaders] say they cannot forbid it, but they are willing to have an answer at the ready, with US support, once again, if need be. It seems the US has decided to bet on the ‘legal’ part of society, of which the army, crushed by the [Novorussian] defeat, is an essential component.”