St. Cecilia - John William Waterhouse
John William Waterhouse's painting, St. Cecilia, has recently been sold to an "unknown Russian buyer," and will enter into his private collection. The painting, which holds the record for the highest auction result for a 19th Century, non-Impressionist work, was purchased by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Art Foundation in 2000 for £ 6.6 million, or roughly, $10,000,000 USD. This new sale to a Russian buyer reflects the current trend in art purchases as more and more 19th Century masterworks are transferring into the private hands of discerning Russian collectors.
Recent developments in Russia and in other Republics of the former Soviet Union have created an influx of extreme wealth. Forbes magazine reports that the number of billionaires in Russia alone has climbed to 110 this year, from 36 in 2004. These newly rich are protecting their assets while at the same time celebrating their country's long established love of the arts through the creation of these private collections.
The former Soviet Union, perhaps because of the Communist Regime and the subsequent "distance" it held from the rest of the world, did not experience the art trends of the 20th Century to the same degree as did the countries of the Western world. Outside of large urban centers like Moscow, the tastes remained more conservative, and realist art, such as that produced by the Academics of the late 1800's, was still awarded high regard. Now that these new millionaires (and billionaires) have the money to purchase luxury items, it is natural that they are collecting paintings from this artistic era.
The Golden Mountain - Mian Situ
I wonder if next we will see Chinese collectors following the same trend. China too, because of their self-imposed isolation under Communist rule, saw little of the Modern art movements. Their art schools froze after the Russian Itinerant artists moved east and began training the Chinese in the European academic manner. Many artists that we prize today in America, like Mian Situ, received their training at schools where the People's Republic fostered 19th Century Western techniques. Though China has their own rich cultural heritage, with their increasing wealth, it may be possible that they too acquire as many of these paintings which appeal more to their sensibilities than they have to collectors in the West.
Paintings which suffered ill regard under Western museum directors, and which have been de-acquisitioned in order to clear space for more Modern pieces, are likely to disappear from our shores. Even during the recent resurgence of interest in Realism, the major attention here still goes to contemporary artists like Damien Hirst whose "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living" (aka A Dead Shark... really) sold at auction for $12 million in 2005. Meanwhile, museums like the Minneapolis Institute of Art, hides, then sells off an iconic Bouguereau painting like Bohémienne. In the blink of an eye, much of the work from this wonderful period of art could be lost to us, as it is spread about the private galleries of those who truly appreciate its artistry, and can now finally afford to collect it.
Bohémienne - WA Bouguereau
I do not deny these new collector's rights to purchase these works. I do envy them their ability to do so, that is granted. I am just saddened that these paintings are not better appreciated here, so that I wouldn't have to fear their disappearance from public view.
St. Cecilia, which was available for museum loans through the Webber Foundation, was last on display at Moscow's State Tretyakov Gallery in May of this year, where undoubtedly, it was seen by its new owner. It will still be included in the upcoming Waterhouse retrospective, but after that, it is uncertain. I for one plan to see it while I still have the opportunity.