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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rostropovich Art Fetches $40M in Sale

ReutersTwo works by Boris Grigoryev in the Rostropovich-Vishnevskaya collection hanging at Sotheby's in London on Friday.
LONDON -- An art collection belonging to the late cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, has been sold to a private buyer for substantially more than ?20 million ($40 million), Sotheby's auction house said Monday.

Sotheby's said the buyer intended to return the collection to Russia. It did not reveal the purchaser's identity, but Interfax quoted billionaire Alisher Usmanov as saying he had bought the artworks.

"This is a collection of Russian art and it, naturally, should be in Russia and should belong to Russia," Usmanov was quoted by the agency as saying. "Everything that is connected with the names of [the collection's] founders is sacred for national culture, for every Russian."

A spokeswoman for Usmanov's Gazprominvestholding company refused to comment on the report.

An auction of the collection, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday in London, was canceled. Sotheby's did not disclose the sale price, but said it was "substantially higher" than the top pre-auction estimate of ?20 million.

Rostropovich, who died in April at the age of 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 dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, settling in Paris with 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 Grigoryev.

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.