Home Art sale Russian art auction house co-founder William MacDougall dies

Russian art auction house co-founder William MacDougall dies


The late William MacDougall who, with his wife Catherine, founded the MacDougall auction house.

He died aged 67 of a heart attack in Moscow on the evening of August 25.

MacDougall, with his wife Catherine who remains the company’s managing director, founded the eponymous auction house in 2004, at a time when the market for Russian art in London was booming.

The couple were previously City analysts and London-based art collectors, but sensed an opening in the market and decided to ‘fulfill the dream’ of setting up their own auction house.

With a host of new Russian clients entering the sector and an increasingly London-centric market, as well as benefiting from the removal of a 30% duty applied to all art imports into Russia in January of the same year, the MacDougalls held their first sale at 33 St James Square in November 2004.

By promoting many lesser-known Russian artists alongside more established names, the company has gained a foothold in one of the most dynamic sectors of the art market. This, coupled with a less conventional and less stuffy approach, allowed it to compete with companies like Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams, and generate growing totals throughout the “boom” period.

In November 2012, the company’s Russian week series generated a total of £5.52 million, but equivalent sales in 2017 reached £9.85 million, which included a record for a soviet realistic painting when Heroes of the first five-year plan by Aleksandr Deinek (1899-1969) was knocked down to £2.2 million.

MacDougall’s successfully expanded into other areas, including Russian icons, artwork and paintings from other post-Soviet Eastern Bloc countries, and became the premier Western auction house with representatives in Moscow and Kyiv.

An attempt to break into the Old Master market in 2010, however, proved more difficult.

Following the invasion of Ukraine earlier this year and the imposition of new sanctions on Russian customers, the company was forced to abandon its “Russia-week” series as well as other salesrooms and the future of these events remains uncertain.

Russian heritage

MacDougall was born in Canada but moved to California with his family aged four. His father worked for IBM and he grew up in Silicon Valley, Palo Alto, and went to Stanford to study economics.

His family had a strong Scottish but also Russian heritage. His grandfather was Alexander Chuhaldin, a famous principal violinist of the Bolshoi Theater who left Russia in 1924 and emigrated to Canada. He later became conductor of the CBC Radio Orchestra and had his portrait painted by Natalia Goncharova.

During Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika period, MacDougall first visited Russia after receiving a letter from a Russian relative, staying in Malakhovka, a suburb of Moscow, where his closest relatives lived. There he met Catherine, who was born in Moscow and whose great-grandfather had been a friend of Chuhaldin.

Later in life MacDougall became Russian Orthodox, and after his death he was buried at Malakhovka.

Catherine MacDougall is now back in the UK and said she hopes “the situation will improve” in terms of the viability of future auctions. She said GTA“As for future auctions, we will watch, see and pray. Russian art and culture were not canceled all together. Not forever, anyway.