Bill Sagan's collection, Part I, is rock history. His company, Wolfgang's Vault, based in San Francisco, sells concert memorabilia--original Stones concert T-shirts, backstage photos of Bob Dylan, vintage Madonna concert tickets, and the like. Sagan's collection, Part II, is Russian history: a relatively obscure art genre known as Russian Impressionism. Since 1995, he has accumulated 43 paintings. (Today the best Russian Impressionist works are worth up to $3 million.) Sagan's collection is on display in his home and in the current exhibit at the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis. One of his favorites, Mikhail Gabuniya's The Tea Pickers, from 1971, hangs in his hallway.
The works look vaguely like those of their European predecessors, but are grittier. French Impressionism, which peaked in the 1870s, had a light subject matter--girls in bonnets, picnics on the Seine. In Russia, Impressionism didn't become pervasive until the 1950s. Because the artists had to portray Soviet life positively, the style proved useful--light and color lend an optimistic air even to, say, a factory worker washing clothes. It's that fusion of history, technical skill, and working-class toughness that Sagan enjoys. "It's not elitist," he says. "It just seems more down-to-earth."