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Spring boost for art market

International private collectors have returned to the fine art market with a vengeance, according to Sotheby's, giving a fillip to a market which has been in the doldrums since 1990. The good news pushed Sotheby's A shares 15p higher yesterday to 840p.

Competitive bidding during the Spring sales in New York pushed the sale price for Picasso's Portrait of a Fallen Angel to pounds 19m. The price - the highest paid for a painting since 1990 - coupled with a record pounds 9.2m for artist Henri Matisse's La Pose Hindoue, helped sales for the 1994- 1995 season to rise by one per cent to pounds 930m.

Renewed demand, coupled with several exceptional estate collections and a number of high- quality single-owner sales, helped auction sales in the first six months of 1995 to pounds 521m, up 13 per cent on the same period last year. Sales in Europe rose by 25 per cent and by 20 per cent in the US.

Competition between bidders also warmed up the London market, where several pictures placed in the two day impressionist and modern art sale beat their reserve. Paul Gauguin's majestic landscape from a French private collection, Tahitiennes pres d'un Russeau, brought pounds 5.5m against a pre sale estimate of pounds 5m and Wassily Kandinsky's Skizze Fur Improvisation 4 sold for pounds 2.8m against a pre-sale estimate of pounds 2.5m.

Jewellery also proved a big draw in both New York and Geneva. Worldwide jewellery sales for the first half of 1995 increased 40 per cent to pounds 77m helped by one of the largest diamonds ever offered at auction in Geneva in May.

The star of the season, a 100.1 carat D-colour internally flawless diamond sold for pounds 10.5m pounds 31.1m. Several important coloured diamonds, including a record price for a pink diamond at auction (1.3m) brought New York sales to pounds 18.7m, the sixth highest ever.

The Latin American market is also proving extremely popular with buyers. Works sold by the IBM International Foundation helped to push the auction house's Latin American sale total to pounds 7.9m.