Rostropovich art sold for more than $40 mil


LONDON -- An art collection belonging to the late Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich has been sold to a private buyer for substantially more than $40 million, Sotheby's auction house said Monday.

Sotheby's said the anonymous buyer intended to return the collection to Russia. An auction of the collection, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, was canceled.

The buyer's identity was expected to be revealed Tuesday in Moscow.

Sotheby's did not disclose the sale price, but said it was "substantially higher" than the pre-auction estimate of $40 million.

Rostropovich, who died in April at age 80, was considered one of the finest cellists of the 20th century and was a staunch opponent of Soviet-era repression.

He fled the Soviet Union in the early 1970s after sheltering the dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, settling in Paris with his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya.

The couple amassed one of the world's finest private collections of Russian art, including glassware, porcelain and works by leading painters such as Ilya Repin and Boris Grigoriev.

In a statement, Vishnevskaya's family said they were delighted the collection had been bought whole.

"It is especially meaningful for our family that the new owner will bring it to Russia," the statement said.

The head of Russia's federal culture agency, Mikhail Shvydkoi, also welcomed the sale, saying that "for Russian culture and Russia as a whole, all things relating to the name of Mstislav Rostropovich are invaluable."

Russian buyers are playing an ever-bigger role on the international art market, and there is a precedent for super-rich Russians buying up artworks to return them to the motherland.

In 2004, tycoon Viktor Vekselberg bought a collection of Faberge eggs that had been owned by the late U.S. businessman Malcolm Forbes and brought them back to Russia.