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A two-day Russian art auction at Sotheby's in New York fetched
A two-day Russian art auction at Sotheby's in New York fetched $46.449 million, breaking several records for individual artists, as wealthy Russians turned out to buy into their cultural heritage.

Russia's economic resurgence since the end of the 1990s and the continually expanding class of super-rich have brought soaring demand for Russian art. Sotheby's Russian art sales in 2007 fetched a massive $190.9 million, compared to just $6.03 million in 2000.

The star of the 19th and 20th century art sales was Birch Grove (1881) by Arkhip Kuindzhi, which went for $3.1 million, above the top pre-sale estimate of $3 million, setting a new auction record for the landscape artist.

In its catalogue entry for the painting, Sotheby's called the use of sunlight in Birch Grove "the extraordinary mark of Russia's greatest master of landscape painting during its golden age."

Five paintings went under the hammer for over $1 million, including Vasili Polenov's landscape The River Oyat (1883), "one of Polenov's best known images" according to Sotheby's, and Alexei Bogoliubov's View of Venice.

A Faberge icon depicting Christ in a silver frame studded with precious stones and pearls went for $780,000, well over the pre-sale estimate of $100,000-150,000. The icon had been sold by the Soviet government in the 1920s.

Three paintings by Russian seascape master Ivan Aivazovsky went for a total of around $4 million.

An 1892 pair of his paintings, Distributing Supplies and The Relief Ship, which once decorated the walls of the White House, went under the hammer on Tuesday for $2.4 million. The images, commemorating American food aid to ease a south Russian famine in the late 19th century, are symbolic of friendship between the two countries.

Ilya Kabakov's album of 32 drawings, The Flying Komarov (1978), fetched $445,000, twice its pre-sale estimate, topping Wednesday's postwar art sales.

Oscar Rabin's urban landscape City with Moon (Socialist City) (1959) almost doubled its top estimate, selling for $337,000, an auction record for the artist.

Sonya Bekkerman, Sotheby's senior vice president and director of Russian paintings, described investment in modern Russian art as a highly profitable and attractive business for investors. She said most buyers of the works are Russians, followed by Ukrainians and Americans.

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