Tycoon donates art to Russian presidential residence

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MOSCOW, Oct 1 (Reuters) A Russian billionaire today donated the renown Rostropovich art collection to a St Petersburg presidential residence renovated on the orders of President Vladimir Putin.

Alisher Usmanov, worth an estimated 5.5 billion dollars, and a major shareholder in the London soccer club Arsenal, said he had not discussed the purchase or donation of the collection of the late cellist Mstislav Rostropovich with Putin beforehand.

In recent years, many Russian billionaires, also known as ''oligarchs'', have made charitable donations to Kremlin-backed projects.

Announcing the bequest of 450 pieces of pre-revolutionary art, including paintings, porcelain figures, plates, vases, ivory and glass, Usmanov said they would go on public view in the Konstantinovsky Palace.

The palace on the Baltic coast outside St Petersburg, built on the orders of Tsar Peter the Great in the early 1700s, underwent major restoration work from 2001 to repair extensive damage dating back to World War Two.

In the past few years, the palace has hosted major events, such as a G8 summit in 2006.

Putin, born in St Petersburg, has been keen to revive the role of the city as Russia's second capital. The president has encouraged numerous major developments in or near his home town, such as the relocation of Russia's Constitutional Court to the city.

''I've never spoken to him about this,'' said Usmanov, when asked at a press conference if he had discussed the donation with Putin.

Usmanov also declined to state exactly how much he had paid for the collection, which he purchased as a single lot from Sotheby's in London after it was put up for sale by the cellist's widow.

The auction house said Usmanov, who made his fortune in metals and mining, had paid ''substantially higher'' than the million price tag.

Putin's property manager Vladimir Kozhin praised the decision to donate the collection intact to the Konstantinovsky rather than split it between museums.

''It is the second centre of public life in Russia after the Kremlin,'' he said.

The Rostropovich art works will be the first complete collection to be put on public display at the palace.

REUTERS SKB BST1810

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