Going, going, going — gone!
Belarus is represented at world auctions not worse than France, with its Picasso, and Italy, with da Vinci
What do we feel when we hear that a Paul Cézanne has sold at auction for $250 million, a Pablo Picasso for $100 million, or a Claude Monet for $80 million? Envy at another’s wealth? Or indifference? What concern of ours are foreign artists and millionaires? However, if native Belarusian artists are involved then our emotions may be roused.
If a Chagall sold for a couple of dozen millions, would Belarus benefit, receiving even 1 percent of this sum? Perhaps, a buyer will donate a picture to a Belarusian museum or offer it for temporary exhibit in our country? Such cases are rare. Nevertheless, having learnt that your countryman is estimated so highly, you find pride in them and in the land which gave them to the world. People abroad will know more about Belarus on learning of its artists, perhaps talking about us as more than ‘the country somewhere near Russia’.
This year, Belarusians have had several such occasions of pride. Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition #18 sold at Sotheby’s for $32 million. It was the first work to be put up for auction by the artist’s direct descendants for one hundred years. Chaim Soutine’s Bride sold at the same auction in New York for $15 million. The well-known expressionist was born in Belarus’ Smilovichi.
The name of our country is also known at London’s Christie’s, which recently auctioned Chagall’s Bouquet by the Window for $5 million. Painted in 1959-1960, it had been stored for over 35 years in a private collection.
Certainly, Sotheby’s and Christie’s are the most well-known, prestigious and elite auction houses, catering for the elite. However, there are more reasonable variants, such as the online auction site eBay. Part of an international network, it’s possible to locate goods around the world.
We checked for Belarusian lots and found about 10,000! It’s interesting to think of millions of people from every corner of the globe seeking out artefacts from Belarus. Many date from Soviet days: a children’s sewing machine, made in the USSR, sold for $65; while a vintage chess set went for $320; a rug bearing the image of Lenin for $300; and a rare half-metre tall porcelain sculpture of Lenin for $800. Toy models of Soviet cars seem to sell for around $300 while various badges fetch anything from $2 (for a ‘Member of the Society of Bibliophiles’) to $1,000 (for a ‘High Achiever of the Ministry of Transport’).
On the American eBay website, you can find standard Belarusian souvenirs for surprising prices: a small straw doll is priced at $399. Meanwhile, a man’s embroidered linen shirt is priced at a reasonable $60.
Fans of painting will be delighted to see Belarusian artworks for sale. A seller from Belarus sells ‘madonnas’ by Alexey Kuzmich for $3,500 and $4,500. Another, from the USA, has phantasmagorical pictures by Dmitry Zenkovich for $15,000. Another American seller has Nikolay Seleshchuk watercolours for $2,000, while a resident of Greece has a picture by a Belarusian artist for sale at $1,000, depicting Tolochin city and painted in 1943.
Few are keen to buy works by anonymous artists but those by world famous masters are another matter. Both are available on eBay.com. You can find more than a thousand ‘key-word tagged’ items for Marc Chagall, mostly from sellers in Israel and the USA. His lithographs start at about $250 and reach $35,000. An original watercolour, entitled Musicians, from 1957, is priced at $175,000.
A pencil drawing by Kazimir Malevich, for his Suprematism #78 (1917), which is also rendered in oils and is stored in Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, is being offered by an Armenian seller for $15,000. A gouache drawing (30х25cm) by Chaim Soutine is for sale by a Bulgarian at $100! I feel rather tempted!
Another member of the Parisian school born in Belarus, Pinchus Kremegne, has a work for sale for $9,500, from an Austrian seller: Portrait of a Woman Near a Window, in oils. Ossip Zadkine’s Port de Saint Vincent is being sold by a German for $2,000.
Typing the word ‘Belarus’ into a search engine of world auctions, you see not only banknotes for Belarusian Roubles (for some reason, valued at dozens of times more than their face value) and starter motors for ‘Belarus’ tractors, but our works of art.
Old postcards of Belarusian cities, priced up to $200 each, are quite popular, as are books such as encyclopaedia Ethnography of Belarus (for $120), and commemorative gold and silver coins (up to $4,000). The most expensive coins are those bearing the image of Yevfrosiniya Polotskaya and her well-known cross.
By Lyudmila Minakova