MOSCOW (Reuters) - Riding a wave of booming global sales in Russian art, Sotheby's opened a show in Moscow this week of early 20th century works, including top-lots from its upcoming New York and London auctions.
Sotheby's says its sales of Russian art have grown from $6 million in 2000 to $50 million in the first half of 2011 alone -- nearly 1.5 percent of the auction house's total turnover.
"The Russian market is alive today... It is showing very strong growth," Jo Vickery, head of the Russian art department at Sotheby's in London, told Reuters.
She said Russian art had grown "a staggering" 35 percent in the first half of 2011, compared to the same period last year.
A pre-World War One painting by Nikolai Roerich, "The Doomed City," which was once part of the Russian writer Maxim Gorky's collection, is one of the most notable works now being shown at Moscow's Academy of Arts. It is estimated at $940,000 and will go on auction in London in late November.
Two paintings of Native American women by Russian artist Nikolai Fechin were also on display, but his largest work to ever go on auction was too unwieldy to be shipped to Moscow.
That monumental masterpiece, "Bearing Away the Bride," has been valued at $3 to 5 million.
But the most valuable lots in the Moscow show -- Wassily Kandinsky's "White Sound" and Tamara de Limpicka's "Le Rêve (Rafaëla Sur Fond Vert)" -- were expected to fetch up to $10 million and $7 million respectively in Sotheby's New York impressionist art auction.
The growing demand for Russian art, including works by contemporary artists, has been pushing up prices for pieces by Kandinsky, one of Russia's first abstract artists.
Over the past 30 years fewer and fewer of his works are left in the market, Sotheby's Russia director Mikhail Kamensky said.
"We are living in interesting times... A lot of people are investing in art. It's a flight of money into tangibles," said Mark Poltimore, the deputy chair of Sotheby's Europe.
"We do not underestimate how important Russia and Russian clients are to our business."
The Sotheby's two-day exhibit is on until October 20.
Reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya, editing by Paul Casciato