June 11 (Bloomberg) -- Three auction houses in London are offering as much as 44 million pounds ($86.7 million) of Russian art for sale this week as an increasing number of wealthy Russians seek to acquire works of their cultural heritage.
Three days of sales begin tomorrow when Sotheby's offers 550 lots that could sell for as much as 27 million pounds. On June 13, 237 lots at Christie's International, the world's largest auction house, could fetch up to 11 million pounds. MacDougall Arts Ltd., an auction house that specializes in Russian art, expects to sell 6 million pounds from 350 lots on June 15.
``Russian buyers who first leaped in five or more years ago are showing yet greater muscle and are determined to win the top bids as they compete with newer Russian collectors,'' said Jo Vickery, head of Sotheby's Russian art department in London.
Russia is in its ninth year of economic growth, in large part driven by demand for oil, gas and metals, with the country's new billionaires making luxury and prestige purchases.
``There is immense potential for growth on the Russian art market, primarily for works of the first half of the 20th century,'' said Lisa Romanova, an art expert with Moscow gallery, Maricevic Fine Art.
Works by artists from the last century have the top estimates at all three auction houses. The sales also include 19th century paintings, Imperial vases, Faberge works, silver, porcelain, and Orthodox church icons.
Sotheby's, the world's second-largest auction house, said that the overwhelming majority of sellers at its sale are American and European, with as many as 80 percent of buyers expected to be Russians.
Sotheby's top lot is ``Still Life with Jug and Icon'' (circa 1910), by Mikhail Larionov, which it estimates at 1 million pounds to 1.5 million pounds. The work comes from a Swiss collection. ``Picnic'' (1920) by Boris Kustodiev, has an auction house sale estimate of 600,000 pounds to 800,000 pounds.
Christie's top lots are ``The Train Station'' (circa 1913) by Natalia Goncharova; ``Portrait of Vasilii Shukhaev in his Studio'' (1928) by Alexander Yakovlev, estimated by the auction house to fetch up to 600,000 pounds; and Konstantin Somov's ``The Rainbow'' (1927), estimated at 400,000 pounds to 600,000 pounds.
MacDougall's top lots are ``Birsk Landscape'' (circa 1916) by Liubov Popova, estimated to make up to 700,000 pounds; and ``Five Faces'' (1980) by Oleg Tselkov, with a top estimate of 220,000 pounds.
Imperial vases made in St. Petersburg during the reign of Nicholas I (1825-55) have been among the most expensive lots at past auctions. Sotheby's offers two pairs in the sale, with the more expensive estimated at 800,000 pounds to 1.2 million pounds.
Sotheby's is selling 124 Faberge pieces, making it the largest group of Faberge at a Russian sale in London. The top lot is a silver and wood vitrine, made in St. Petersburg in the late 19th-century, with an estimate of up to 250,000 pounds.
Sotheby's said that interest in Faberge occurred after it brokered a private sale of the Forbes Collection of Faberge to Russian oil billionaire Viktor Vekselberg in February 2004.
``Top Faberge pieces have acquired a new status as highly desirable collectibles among a Russian clientele, who are driving up prices which in some cases have more than tripled in the past few years,'' said Vickery of Sotheby's.
Christie's Faberge pieces for sale are led by a hardstone figure of an old woman, presumed to be a matchmaker. The estimate on the six-inch piece is 300,000 pounds to 400,000 pounds.
The highest grossing Russian sale, raising 28.2 million pounds, was held on Nov. 29, 2006, by Christie's, the world's largest auction house.
Sotheby's Russian art sales have risen more than twenty-fold since 2001, and totaled $153.5 million in 2006. Christie's had Russian art sales of $70 million in 2006, up about three-fold since 2004.