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Russian collectors help propel Sotheby's 'great stride' into 2014

AFP/Getty Images
Sotheby's employees hold up Camille Pissarro's 'Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinee de printemps' (1897) during the Sotheby's Impressionist, Modern & Contemporary Art auctions press preview in London on January 29, 2014. The art work is expected to fetch between 7 - 10 million pounds. AFP PHOTO/ANDREW COWIEANDREW COWIE/AFP/Getty Images

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By Reuters
Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, 6:15 p.m.

LONDON — Works by Picasso and Van Gogh helped the London arm of Sotheby's hit its highest-ever sales figure for a single auction, coming close to the overall London record set by rival Christie's a day earlier, as art sales boomed in the British capital.

The Sotheby's sale late on Wednesday totaled $266 million, and the auctioneer said on Thursday demand had come from emerging markets such as Russia and longer-established markets in Europe and America.

“Our auctioneer, Henry Wyndham, was fielding bids from as many as five determined bidders on nearly every lot, coming from Russia, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America as well as the U.S. and Europe,” said Helena Newman, the co-head of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art department worldwide.

“It certainly feels like a great stride into the first of the 2014 sale seasons.”

The previous day, a Christie's sale fetched $289 million, a record for any sale held in London by an auction house, even though the auctioneer had to withdraw a batch of works by Joan Miro at the last minute.

Highlights of the Sotheby's sale included “Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinee de printemps,” a Parisian street scene by impressionist Camille Pissarro, that went for $32.6 million to an anonymous buyer, and “L'Homme est en mer,” by Vincent Van Gogh, which fetched almost $28 million.

The sale included part of the private collection of Holocaust survivor and four-time concentration camp escapee Jan Krugier. The 37 items, including works by Pablo Picasso and Pierre Bonnard, fetched $86.5 million.

The auction drew bidders from 44 countries, more than Sotheby's, founded in 1744, ever entertained for a sale in London in the same category.

“We have seen an explosion in the globalization of our buyers,” Newman said, adding that new buyers from Russia were successful in bagging some of the top lots.

Prices for the most-sought-after art works have soared in recent years, driven by an swiftly expanding class of super-rich collectors in emerging markets and financiers flush with cash from the extra liquidity pumped into markets by central banks.

Investors say emerging-market billionaires have poured money into the top end of the art market because they see it as a safer investment than volatile currencies and unstable economies.

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