Roerich Painting Becomes Most Expensive Russian Artwork Ever Sold at Auction

  • LONDON, United Kingdom
  • /
  • June 05, 2013

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Madonna Laboris by Nikolai Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947) sold to a bidder on the telephone for £7.9million, setting a new world record price for the artist and a record price for Russian art, at Bonhams on June 5, 2013.

Russian art returned to fighting form at Bonhams with a record-breaking Russian sale on June 5, 2013, totalling £12,384,675 and setting two new world records.

In an overflowing salesroom, the mesmerizing Madonna Laboris by Nikolai Roerich (Russian, 1874-1947) sold to a bidder on the telephone for £7.9million, setting a new world record price for the artist and making it the most valuable Russian picture ever to be sold in a Russian art auction.

The lost masterpiece Madonna Laboris was always known to exist but its whereabouts had remained a mystery until it was rediscovered by Bonhams experts in a private collection in the U.S.A.


‘Madonna Laboris’ depicts the story from an apocryphal gospel which captured Roerich’s artistic imagination. In the transcendental heights above earth is Heaven, at the gate of which stands the Apostle Peter. Peter was disturbed and said to the Lord God: ‘All day long I watch the gates of Paradise; I do not let anyone in, yet in the morning there are newcomers in Paradise.’ And the Lord said: ‘Let us make the rounds at night, Peter.’ So they went in the night and they saw the Holy Virgin lowering along the wall her snow-white scarf, up which souls were climbing. Peter took this to heart and wanted to interfere, but the Lord whispered: “Shh... let be…” (Nicholas Roerich, To Womanhood, 1931).

A second world record was set by The Child Musicians by Alexander Volkov (1886-1957) which surpassed expectations selling for £2,057,250 to a buyer on the telephone after a lengthy battle with bidders in the saleroom. The painting is from the period which the artist described as his ‘return to realism’ and is considered to be one of his most important pictures of this period.


Another highlight of the sale was a stunning Faberge Imperial Romanov gilt and enamel cigarette case which made £205,250.

The lavender enamel cigarette case, decorated in silver gilt with the heraldic double-headed eagle and entwined vines was a gift from the Czarina Alexandra Fedorovna presented to her husband Czar Nicholas II on the birth of their second daughter in 1897. Inscribed on the inside ‘From your loving Alix’ and dated 29th May 1897, the gift commemorates three people whose lives were to end violently. The Romanovs had ruled Russia for three centuries, until the Russian Revolution in 1917 when Nicholas II, Alexandra, their children, their physician, and several servants were executed inside the Royal palace bringing to an end an historic era.

Giles Pepiatt, Director at Bonhams comments, “The exceptional results realised in today’s sale demonstrate the strength of the market and further confirm that Bonhams are achieving the highest prices for the very best examples of Russian art.”

Two of the star lots reference royal and religious takes on a mother’s love. The Faberge cigarette case and Roerich’s painting symbolise gifts of love and life from the Queen of Russia and the Queen of Heaven.

Tags: european art

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