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Rostropovich's arthoard to fetch £20m

Andrew Johnson, News.Independent.Co.Uk

Nobody in history played the cello better than Mstislav Rostropovich. Yet when the Russian maestro arrived in London in 1974 all he had was his instrument and a dog called Kuzya.

He and his wife, the acclaimed soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, fled the Soviet authorities after standing up for dissidents, included the jailed writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Now a new kind of Russian is in London Ц billionaire oligarchs who grew rich in the post-communist era of the 1990s, and they will be the main bidders for an acclaimed collection of Russian art built up by Rostropovich (right) who died earlier this year.

The collection of 450 works, including rediscovered masterpieces, is expected to raise £20m at Sotheby's in London on 19 September.

Georgian industrialist and mining magnate Viktor Vekselberg, 50, worth around $5bn, is expected to be the main bidder. He already has the largest and most important collections of Russian art in the world, including £50m-worth acquired in the past two years. In 2004 he bought the Forbes collection of Fabergé eggs for £60m.

Possibly bidding against him will be Leonid Mikhelson, worth £2bn, who has sponsored Russian art exhibitions in his homeland.

Jo Vickery, head of Sotheby's Russian department, said: "The Russian collectors are the most likely buyers for the top lots. But this sale will have a wide sweep."

Sotheby's, which has just opened an auction house in Moscow, has seen its Russian art sales surge in recent years. Last year's sales fetched £82m Ц 20 times that raised in 2000.

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