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LONDON (Reuters) - Christie's claimed a new auction record for Russian artist Ilya Repin on Monday when his 1875 canvas "A Parisian Cafe" fetched 4.5 million pounds ($7.4 million) at the start of Russian art week in London.
The large-scale canvas, depicting a bustling cafe crowded with well-heeled customers, had been expected to fetch 3-5 million pounds and fetched one of the highest prices of any painting at a specialist Russian sale.
That record is held by Russian art auctioneer MacDougall's, which raised around seven million pounds with Russian-American artist Nikolai Fechin's "The Little Cowboy" last year.
Christie's holds a single Russian art sale in London this week on Monday, while its rival Sotheby's has three separate auctions ending on Wednesday. MacDougall's holds four sales on Wednesday and Thursday with an overall low estimate of 15 million pounds.
"We were optimistic going into the week and that optimism has been confirmed by the Christie's result," MacDougall's director William MacDougall said.
"The oil price is going up and there are more billionaires in Moscow," he added, referring to the kind of wealthy tycoons who can compete for the top lots during Russian art week.
"The Russian economy didn't suffer as badly as some economies in the (financial) crisis and is clearly in a recovery, and the art market has been in recovery since April 2009."
MacDougall's top lot on offer this week is a 1911 portrait by Boris Kostudiev of his daughter Irina which is expected to fetch 1.2-1.8 million pounds.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato