Guadagnini and Serafin reach new highs in auction of items from the private collection of the Russian cellist and his wife Galina Vishnevskaya

A sale of items from the private collection of Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya fetched a total of $5.3m (£4.2m) yesterday at Sotheby’s.

As well as works of art and jewelry, the sale included three cellos: a 1783 G.B. Guadagnini, c.1741 Santo Serafin, and a 1743 Giovanni Guidanti, as well as four bows.

The Guadagnini and Serafin both set records for cellos by their makers, fetching £1.93m and £610,000 respectively. The Guidanti, estimated at £200,000-300,000, did not sell.

According to the auction catalogue, the Guadagnini was late addition to Rostropovich’s collection, being purchased in 2000. He ‘had it brought to his flat in Paris, where he merely plucked it briefly before declaring his intention to buy it’.

Apparently, he had always wanted a cello by the maker because his big break came at the age of 18 playing what he thought was a Guadagnini in the first Soviet young musician competition in 1945. However, when he left to settle in the US 1974, he took the cello to a luthier who ‘declared that it was mis-labelled and nothing to do with that maker, so Rostropovich promised himself at that point that one day he would own a fine Guadagnini cello’.

The Serafin cello is unusual for its violin-like outline with long and slender corners.