Vladimir Borovikovsky portrait sees 4,177% increase on estimate

A pair of portraits by the leading Russian portrait artist of the 19th century Vladimir Borovikovsky have seen dazzling bids at Christie's.

Borovikovsky was the leading portrait artist of his day, but may have remained unknown if it wasn't for a chance encounter with Catherine II, after which she had him move to St Petersburg

Valued at £50,000-70,000, Portrait of Countess Liubov Il'inichna Kusheleva and Children made £2.9m ($5m) - a 4,177% increase on estimate - at the June 2 auction in London.

Portrait of Prince Petr Vasilievich Lopukhin followed, selling for £2.1m ($3.6m) - up 3,490% against a £40,000-60,000 estimate.

The sale demonstrates the buying power of Russian art collectors, who have entered the sector with fervour in recent years and often pay high prices for sought after works.

However, the prices paid are far above the actual value of the work and look unsustainable. Before long, we could see a price bubble in Russian similar to that caused by enthusiastic Chinese buyers in the Bordeaux wine market.

Vereschagin Pearl Mosque Agra
Vereshchagin refused to sell his works, instead preferring to exhibit them to enlighten the viewer

Similarly fevered bidding was seen for Vasily Vereshchagin's The Pearl Mosque at Agra, which was top lot of the sale at £3.6m ($6.1m) against a £1.5m high estimate - a 140% gain.

Vereshchagin is considered the most important Russian orientalist painter, having found international success unlike many other artists from his country. The present work is the result of his two years of travelling in India in the 1870s, and was exhibited at the Crystal Palace in London.

However, collectors were shocked when visiting the exhibition as they were informed that Vereschagin's spectacular works were not for sale, with the artist intending them as a humanitarian project designed to educate and provoke thought among the public.

Many of Vereschagin's paintings remained with him until he died, and were later sold in the landmark auction of his estate.

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