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Art

London auction house cancels sale of Miro paintings

A London auction house has abruptly cancelled the sale of 85 Joan Miro paintings. A Portuguese court had ruled that the country could auction the paintings, after an opposition challenge.

Citing legal uncertainties stemming from the lawsuit in Portugal, auction house Christie's said on Tuesday that it had decided to cancel the sale of the Miro paintings pending the resolution of the dispute.

"While the recent injunction to stop the sale was not granted, the legal uncertainties created by this ongoing dispute mean that we are not able to safely offer the works for sale," Christie's said in a press release.

"We have a responsibility to our buyers to be sure that legal title can transfer to them without issue."

Injunction denied

Hours before the auction's scheduled start time, a judge denied the opposition Socialist Party's request for an injunction to stop the sale. Portugal's government pleaded that harsh austerity measures have left the country short of cash, and it could not make retaining the collection of the Catalan surrealist Miro one of its priorities.

Portugal's public prosecutor backed the appeal to stop the sale, which accused the administration of ignoring "the immeasurable immaterial value" of the collection to the country, forced into austerity measures following a 78-billion-euro ($105 billion) rescue by international creditors in 2011.

With a current estimated measurable material value of 35 million euros ($47 million), the Miro collection became state property after the country nationalized the failed Banco Portugues de Negocios in 2008. Charged with minimizing the impact of the institution's old debts and bad loans on public accounts, Portugal's state holding company, Parvalorem, decided to sell the Miro collection.

Online petition

More than 9,200 people have signed an online petition calling for Portugal to hang on to the collection, despite the drastic austerity measures imposed over the past three years under the international bailout. Monday's hearing, involving opponents of the sale and representatives of the government, continued late into the night, but Tuesday's decision went the way of the government.

"The appeal to suspend the auction was denied," an official at the Lisbon Administrative Court said Tuesday after opposition lawmakers argued that the right-wing government had violated rules on the classification of cultural assets.

The Socialist member of parliament Gabriela Canavilhas, one of the authors of the appeal, said the opponents of the sale would analyze the details of the court's ruling to decide how to proceed. She did not rule out a new appeal.

slk, mkg/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)

DW.DE