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London auction houses launch record Russian art sale

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LONDON, June 13 (RIA Novosti) - A series of auctions featuring imperial and avant-garde art from Russia kicked off in London this week with Sotheby's holding its largest-ever Russian sale and Christie's setting a new price record for an individual lot.

Christie's International offered 237 Russian lots at a sale Wednesday. The auction house broke its record by selling Konstantin Somov's 1927 painting "The Rainbow" for 3.3 million pounds, well over an estimate of 600,000 pounds.

Until now, the highest-priced Russian painting has been Somov's 1922 "Pastorale Russe," which went off at 2.7 million pounds at a Christie's sale last November.

Some 550 pieces went under the hammer at Sotheby's Russian sale Tuesday, with the highest value lot being Mikhail Larionov's early-20th-century "Still Life with Jug and Icon," which went for 2.26 million pounds, more than a double its 1 million estimate.

Boris Kustodiev's "Picnic" (1920) was bought by a Russian collector at 1.25 million pounds after fierce bidding. The picture had a sale estimate of 600,000 to 800,000 pounds.

Sotheby's latest Russian sale auction, which grossed 22.7 million pounds, also featured a marble bust of Catherine the Great, a gold-and-enamel Faberge cigarette case and an original costume design by Leon Bakst for Natalia Trouhanova, a dancer for the Ballet Russes.

The house's London sale of modern and contemporary Russian art last February and a New York sale of Russian art in April fetched a combined total of 28.2 million pounds.

Sotheby's Russian department has seen a rapid surge in sales over the past decade, with last year's sales fetching a total of 82 million pounds, 20 times the total raised in 2000. It now ranks sixth in importance within the auction house, and has just opened an office in Moscow to cater to a growing class of wealthy Russians interested in buying art.

"Now over 80% of our buyers are Russians from Russia, buying back their heritage. These buyers are serious collectors, increasingly market-savvy, ready to pay a great deal of money for the best pieces," said Jo Vickery, head of Sotheby's Russian department in London.

Post-war and contemporary Russian art will be up for sale later this week at MacDougall Arts Ltd., an auction house established in London three years ago especially to cater to this burgeoning niche market.

The 350 lots on offer at MacDougall's June 15 auction are expected to reap some 6 million pounds overall. The top lots are "Birsk Landscape" (circa 1916) by Liubov Popova, estimated to bring in up to 700,000 pounds, and "Five Faces" (1980) by Oleg Tselkov, with an estimate of 220,000 pounds.

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