Page last updated at 14:47 GMT, Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Picasso painting pulled from sale

The painting has been displayed in anticipation of the sale

A Picasso Cubist painting that was to be sold at Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern auction next week in New York has been withdrawn from sale.

Arlequin had been expected to fetch over $30m (19.1m).

A number of high-profile works have failed to perform well at auction recently, sparking fears the current financial crisis is hitting art prices.

Sotheby's said the owner decided to withdraw the painting from sale for "private reasons".

Arlequin, which had not been seen in public for 45 years, depicts a harlequin resting his chin on one hand.

Last month Emmanuel Di-Donna, of Sotheby's, said it was one the "greatest" Cubists to be offered on the open market.

It belonged to the Surrealist painter Enrico Donati, who died earlier this year aged 99. He bought it in Paris in the 1940s for $12,000.

Autumn sales

Arlequin was to be the highlight of Sotheby's sale, to be held on Monday.

Melanie Gerlis, art market editor of The Art Newspaper, said the New York art market had been more depressed than in other cities.

But she added that many of the autumn auctions in London, Sydney and Hong Kong, had failed to meet expectations.

"It is not terribly surprising as there is less money around, and it is also a confidence-based market," she said.

Andy Warhol's Skulls
Andy Warhol's Skulls failed to reach its estimate earlier this month

"The art market is not down as much as stocks, but it has not been a healthy month, with pieces going just not quite what's expected."

Rival auction house Christie's post-war and contemporary art auction raised 32m, including buyer's premium, in London on 19 October. Of the 47 lots on offer, 26 were sold.

That compared with pre-auction expectations of between 58m-76m, not including premium.

It came two days after Sotheby's raised 22m at its equivalent sale, below pre-sale estimates ranging from 31m-43m.

The prize lot, Andy Warhol's pop-art paintings of human skulls, sold for 4.3m, below the estimate of 7m.

Despite the outcome, both auction houses said they were pleased with the results.

Ms Gerlis added that the art market could benefit from a so-called "Obama effect" as US voters go to the polls for the presidential elections on 4 November.

"There is a lot of sentimentality involved in the art market," she said.

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