9 November 2018

Tabunov Antiques: 'If you do inherit a Faberge - well then it is difficult not to like it!'

Alexander Tabunov of Tabunov Antiques been trading at Grays since 2015. He specializes in Russian art and antiques, Faberge pieces, icons, bronzes, enamel, silver and porcelain. We have come to his shop to find out more about him and his incredible collection of unique objects...

Alexander Tabunov in his shop: Unit 124, Lower Ground, Grays

Alexander, please tell us about how did it all start for you?

I started as a market trader in St. James’ selling Soviet memorabilia, but then I moved into antiques like porcelain figures, bronze statues, and silver enamel. I changed direction when the market slowed down in Russia and I received an order to buy a painting from Belarus.

My boss at work wanted a Social Realism painting depicting workers, especially miners. I had no idea how to go about it. But, casually walking down the street, when I was back in Minsk for holidays, I met a painter whose father was a member of the Artists’ Union of the USSR. He took me to his personal studio, and later to other artists’ studios, which I really enjoyed. I was surrounded by about five hundred paintings and chatted about art. I chose two paintings that I most liked to bring back to London.

I wanted to give one of the paintings as a gift but my boss insisted that he wanted to pay for it. After that, I kept getting commissions. I participated in Russian art exhibitions, in 2007 and 2008, in London. I was selling Soviet art, while at the same time I was getting commissions for antiques. So I started looking around, going to auctions, visiting places and learning about the antiques trade.

What made you come to London in the first place?

I came to London from Belarus to study business management. While I was still a student, I started supplying Soviet Russian souvenirs to English customers. Now, I sell Russian art and antiques to Russians and English, and other collectors from all over the world. Sometimes, pieces I had sold to collectors’ years ago, I am now buying back.

Russian antique objects are still a novelty in this country. But there are also very rare in Russia and the prices are high as they are becoming more and more desirable.

How do you feel in this environment given your business background?

I love it so much, it’s my favourite thing in life. I think about it all the time. Everyday my mind is around beautiful objects and how to source them for my clients.

You cover a very diverse area of interest in terms of materials, techniques and style. How do you know what to buy?

I buy what I like. And if I like something it is not difficult to sell it. Otherwise, it might sell accidentally. But if you don’t like something yourself, you don’t show it to customers. You keep it hidden in the corner. In the first place, you need to believe in what you sell. I’ve got a few mistakes to show you. When you buy and sell you learn very quickly. It is expensive to make mistakes. You learn from collections books, auction houses catalogues, and of course you learn from other dealers.

How would you describe your clientele?

They could be anyone. English people like decorative pieces and they love the enamel pieces. But my most expensive items go to Russian collectors and dealers. Usually, I have regulars who come back. Prices also matter. There’s waves of interest. Families from Russia have settled in England, France and the U.S. and they still have precious items to sell, or they might want to add to their collection.

Do people who inherit necessarily like the items or do tastes change among different generations?

Well, it depends on what you inherit. If you inherit a Faberge, it is difficult not to like it.! Because of the artistic quality, the splendid colours, such elaborate and intricate technique. They are exceptionally high quality pieces in every way.

 Interviewed 25 October by Titika Malkogeorgou

Vera Asedovskya 'Conversation', 2004. Oil on Canvas.

Faberge Silver Mounted Ceramic Vase

Antique Russian Silver Gilded and Enamel Key Case, c.1908

Faberge Silver-Gilt Enamel Case
Nigerian 'Ife' Style Bronze Head

Boris Shcherbakov, 'Autumn in Tarkhany' 1984, Oil on Canvas

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