LONDON (REUTERS).- Auctioneers are targeting the former Soviet Union's growing middle classes, as well as ultra-wealthy oligarchs, at a twice-yearly series of Russian art sales in London this week.
Business tycoons from Russia and Ukraine have been among the biggest bidders in salerooms around the world for several years, helping to boost values for contemporary, modern, impressionist and Russian art.
And with fine art prices hitting new records after a relatively brief slump caused by the global financial crisis, auction houses are quietly confident that the appetite for Russian paintings, manuscripts and works of art will be strong.
"We are expecting more business and the market is looking up," said William MacDougall, director of the specialist Russian auction house MacDougall's.
He expects to sell art worth more than 12 million pounds ($17.3 million) during the week, compared with 9.5 million during the last series in December.
For the first time, MacDougall's is holding a separate sale of Russian works on paper in a bid to tap middle class clients who could not compete for major paintings.
In June last year MacDougall's most important buyer was Alina Aivazova, the wife of the mayor of Kiev.
"Investing in paintings seemed to her very sensible," MacDougall told Reuters. "I think people are even more tempted now, not just because of the economic recovery but also ... because of the euro's problems."
Among the highlights at MacDougall's is Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani's "Arsenal Hill at Night," valued at 0.9-1.2 million pounds. The work hung for many years in the Moscow apartment of Lily Brik, the muse of futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky.
Sotheby's holds three auctions this week and forecasts sales of around 19 million pounds, roughly the same as late 2009.
Its top lot is expected to be Ivan Shishkin's "The Dark Wood," estimated at 1.0-1.5 million pounds, followed by Yuri Annenkov's "Portrait of Zinovii Grzhebin," a leading editor in early 20th century Russia. It is expected to fetch 0.8-1.2 million pounds.
Among the works on offer by jeweler Faberge is a clock estimated at 400-600,000 pounds.
Christie's is offering Russian art valued at 7.9-11.2 million pounds, compared with around nine million at the end of last year. Its sale includes over 60 lots of Faberge, including a private collection of 45 lots from a European royal family.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)