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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Voltaire's Letters to Catherine Coming Home

Moscow art dealer Alexander Khochinsky said Thursday that he had bought 26 letters written by French philosopher and satirist Voltaire to Catherine the Great but refused to disclose who he was acting for.

Khochinsky said he had bought the letters for 583,200 euros ($750,800) at a Sotheby's auction in Paris. Sotheby's said it was a record.

"The idea is very patriotic -- the purchase is linked with those genuine thoughts in mind," Khochinsky said by telephone. When asked if he had bought the letters in the interests of the state, he said: "That is a correct feeling."

Born as an obscure German princess, Catherine (1729-96) embraced the Enlightenment as empress. She corresponded with Voltaire for years.

Voltaire, who often offended the influential with satire, won the respect of Catherine, who cultivated his fame inside Russia.

Sotheby's said the letters, dating from 1768 to 1777, fetched a record price for 18th-century handwritten documents.

Khochinsky said the letters had not been bought for an "oligarch."

The letters will be returned to Russia, he said, confirming a report in Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

Khochinsky, who faced tough competition during bidding from an unknown collector in the United States, said the letters contained previously unstudied texts.