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The latest Russian art sales in the Capital saw four salerooms generate a combined £36.9m hammer, a little lower than the equivalent series last year which posted £39.9m, but above the £32.8m seen at the auctions in May.

Although demand is selective, strong bidding arrived on some traditionally-styled pictures including the top lot of the series - Boris Kustodiev's (1878-1927) The Coachman which took £3.9m at Christie's on November 26.

The 1923 picture had been owned by the Nobel Prize winning physicist Peter Kapitza and came to auction from a descendant. Estimated here at £1.5m-2m, it sold to a private buyer on the phone and made a record for the artist.

Also making a hefty sum was Nicolai Fechin's (1881-1955) portrait of Mademoiselle Podbelskaya from 1912 which overshot an £800,000-1.2m estimate and was knocked down at £1.8m again to a private buyer. The 2ft 8in x 2ft 6in (81 x 78cm) signed oil on canvas had been unseen in public since 1913 and had been acquired by the European vendor's father in France in 1920.

Christie's hammer total from their Important Russian art sale held was £12.9m with 65% of the 391 lots finding buyers.

Dramatic Competition

Sotheby's meanwhile held three separate sales which generated a combined £17.1m with 60% of 517 lots getting away.

The highest price in their evening sale on November 26 was the £1.05m seen for a Valentin Alexandrovich Serov (1865-1911) portrait of a young girl which sold to a CIS private buyer in the room. The portrait of Praskovia Anatolievna Mamontova was an oil on canvas executed by the artist at the age of 22, making it one of Serov's earliest finished paintings.

Estimated at £300,000-500,000, it drew three bidders and the final price was an auction record.

However, the most dramatic competition of the series came at Sotheby's day sale when bidding took off for Yuri Annenkov's (1889-1974) portrait of Vsevolod Meyerhold. Estimated at £30,000-50,000, the pencil drawing drew eight bidders and was finally knocked down at £900,000 again to a CIS private buyer.

The price was a new high for a work on paper record by the artist at auction.

The two sales held by MacDougall's posted a joint hammer total of £5.52m with the top price coming on November 25 for Ivan Aivazovsky's (1817-1900) View of Venice, San Giorgio Maggiore which was knocked down at £840,000 (est: £950,000-2m).

Bonhams sale on November 28 made a hammer total of £1.46m and was led by Frantz Alexeevich Roubaud's (1856-1928) Circassian charge at £130,000 (£50,000-60,000). The sale suffered somewhat from three of the four most valuable pictures, all consigned from a corporate collection, failing to get away.

The buyer's premium at each saleroom was 25/20/12%.

Tarkovsky Archive

Meanwhile, an 18-minute bidding battle came at Sotheby's sale of Music, Continental and Russian Books and  Manuscripts in London on November 28 for an important archive of material relating to the Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986).

The collection of several thousand working manuscripts, personal photographs, recordings and private documents - including a draft letter addressed to President Leonid Brezhnev - drew three determined bidders and overshot a £80,000-100,000 estimate before it was knocked down at £1.3m to representatives of the government of Russia's Ivanovo region.