RBCC Bulletin: James Butterwick, Art Collector and Gallerist



Art Collector and Gallerist

I studied Russian with a History of Art subsidiary at university, the former for no other reason than it sounded interesting and the latter because I had a history of art expertise in my family. I began buying and selling Russian Art 28 years ago when I bought my first work – a small Bakst that set me back £550, an impossibility today.

In those days Russian Art was ridiculously cheap. A major oil that would now sell for several million would be pushed to find a buyer for £50,000 then. Whilst nearly all the buyers are now Russians, 20 years ago this was not the case. I sold a beautiful Repin to a Brazilian friend of mine last month, but she is very much the exception and now nearly all my buyers are Russian. These vary from higher profile figures to people who collect more modestly and prefer to keep their collections out of the public eye. Russians began buying around the early 1990’s and have gradually become the majority, native art returning to its birthplace. These buyers are also becoming increasingly sophisticated and knowledgeable.

I built my own gallery last year though, conveniently, it is in my home. I have no real desire for the stresses of Bond Street and find that the level of my business has actually greatly increased since opening, despite the gallery being by invitation only. I travel regularly to Russia, and remain the only foreign member of ICAAD, the Russian Art Dealers Association affiliated to CINOA, the International Art Dealers Society – a matter of some pride to me.

Russian Art remains a good investment, if you choose carefully and take competent and impartial advice. My maxim is ‘miracles do not happen’ – as a buyer you need to be aware of the dangers of buying cheap paintings without a provenance. There remains one segment of our market that has yet to be adequately exploited – non-conformist Soviet painting from 1960 to 1990 (right). This experienced considerable growth before October 2008 but then suffered badly with the financial downturn. Whilst Russian pre-war painting remained fairly resilient to the world financial crisis, non-conformist art was very hard hit and has yet to return to its 2008 levels. Consequently, I have recently started buying up works by the leading artists like Komar-Melamid, Tselkov, Steinberg, Rukhin and Sitnikov but I do not expect any spectacular returns for two-three years.

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