One of the greatest collections of Russian art in the West – put together by Mstislav Rostropovich, the celebrated Russian cellist and conductor, while he was living in exile in Britain and France – is going home as Moscow's new-found wealth starts to be used to repatriate its heritage.
Alisher Usmanov, said to be the 14th richest man in Russia with a metals and mining fortune estimated at £5 billion, has snapped up the entire collection for more than £20 million on the eve of it being broken up in a two-day sale due to start at Sotheby's in London today.
Mr Usmanov, who has previously saved the Bolshoi from bankruptcy and is now fighting to win control of Arsenal football club after buying a 15 per stake for £75 million, said yesterday that he would give Rostropovich's collection to the Russian government.
The cellist and his wife, the former Bolshoi soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, arrived in the West in 1974 after fleeing the Soviet Union. ....
Russian art – much of it had arrived in the West during the Revolution – was cheap then and over 30 years Rostropovich built up a huge collection of 18th to 20th century paintings and porcelain. He died in April aged 80.
Driven by new Russian wealth, prices in Western auction houses are now soaring and patriotic oligarchs keen to curry favour with President Vladimir Putin have snapped up Russia's lost art treasures and returned them to the state.
In a similar pre-emptive deal, leaving another auction in New York cancelled, Viktor Vekselberg, an oil and metals tycoon, paid £60 million for nine gem-encrusted Fabergé eggs which had belonged to the Romanov dynasty and put them on display in the Kremlin.
Sotheby's UK sold £75 million of Russian art last year, compared with £4.5 million in 2001.