MacDougall’s inaugural sale includes this dynastic portrait of Nicholas I commissioned by his son Alexander II and executed by the court painter Egor Botman in 1870. It carries the sale’s highest estimate of £120,000-150,000.

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MacDougall's, who have established offices in both St James's and Moscow, is the brainchild of two long-term Russian art collectors and former City analysts, Catherine and William MacDougall. Their first sale of Russian paintings at 33 St James Square, London SW1 is scheduled for November 30 at 5pm.

New money, new tax laws and a revived interest in lost cultural heritage have helped Russian art become one of the hot properties of the global art market, with London as its centre. Particularly liberating has been the January 1 lifting of a debilitating 30 per cent tax applied to all art imports into Russia.

Now, although artworks sent by transit (for example by DHL) or imported by non-nationals are still subject to taxation, private Russian individuals can bring art into the country without incurring the levy. It was this new state of affairs that allowed Victor Vekselberg, the chief operating officer of Russia's third largest oil and gas company TNK-BP, to purchase the Forbes Collection of Fabergé last February with a pre-emptive bid of around $100m.

However, Catherine MacDougall, who was born in Moscow, believes the Russian market remains a provincial affair for the established Western auction houses. "In spite of the vibrant market, centred in London, last year there were only three Russian art auctions held here. The value of the market has tripled over the last four years… yet the established auction houses still use the same old approach: only one expert is in charge of forming each Russian sale, covering over three centuries of work."

A key aim of the new venture - and crucial to its success or otherwise - will be the promotion of the many lesser-known émigré artists alongside the classic names of Russian painting that have become common currency at Sotheby's and Christie's.

Based in London, Mrs MacDougall is one of four experts working for the new company that has received the approval of representatives of the Russian Federal Ministry of Culture.

In Moscow - where MacDougall's recently participated in the Autumn Salon (the main Russian art and antiques event of the year) - are Vladimir Petrov of the Tretyakov Gallery and Maxim Bokser, the former director of the art auction house Alfa.

Nadine Neizawer, the author of a biographical dictionary on the Russian 'Ecole de Paris' is based in Paris. France, where many Russian artists made their home after the Revolution, is the source of much of the material consigned for the first sale. Further sales are scheduled for March (Russian art of the 1960s) and May 2005.

MacDougall's can be contacted on 020 7661 9325.