Page last updated at 10:09 GMT, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Record estimate for disputed Picasso painting

Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto
Lord Lloyd Webber bought the painting for 18m in 1995

A painting owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber's Art Foundation, which was at the centre of a dispute about its Nazi-era history, is to go under the hammer.

Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto is being offered with a pre-sale estimate of between £30m-£40m - the highest for any work of art ever offered in Europe.

It was expected to fetch up to $60m (£37.6m) at auction in 2006, but the sale was blocked at the last minute.

The dispute surrounding the 1903 work was resolved in January.

It will be the highlight of Christie's Impressionist and Modern Art Sale in London on 23 June.

Blue Period

Jussi Pylkkanen, president of Christie's Europe, Russia and the Middle East, said it was "one of the most important works of art to be offered at auction in decades".

He said: "The opportunity to acquire such a masterpiece of 20th century art is sure to prompt great excitement amongst collectors and institutions around the world.

"These Blue Period paintings by Picasso, executed when the artist was in his early 20s, paved the way for all the great modernist movements of the 20th Century.

"Consequently it is a painting which has the broadest possible appeal and could find its proper place in any major museum or private collection."

'Utterly spurious'

The dispute over the painting's ownership came about after German man Professor Julius Schoeps, an heir to Berlin banker Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, claimed his ancestor had to sell the Picasso at a low price after being forced to flee the Nazis.

At the time, the Andrew Lloyd Webber Art Foundation said the claims were "utterly spurious, without legal or factual substance".

But a US judge blocked the auction at Christie's in New York until the matter could be investigated.

In January this year, Mr von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's heirs announced they had reached a settlement agreement with the trustees of The Andrew Lloyd Webber Art Foundation, relinquishing all claims of title to the painting.

The foundation said it was "pleased" by the outcome.

The Andrew Lloyd Webber Art Foundation bought the painting in 1995 for £18m. At the time Lord Lloyd-Webber said the artwork was "mesmeric".

The musician's foundation said all proceeds from the sale will benefit arts, culture and heritage in the UK.

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