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Andrew Lloyd Webber to auction off his Picasso for £40m

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London (ANI): English composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's Art Foundation is set to auction off a Picasso with a record estimate price of up to 40 million pounds. The portrait of the artist's friend Angel Fernandez de Soto, which was once at the centre of a dispute over its Nazi-era history, has the highest pre-auction valuation for a painting sold in Europe.

The gloomy work, also known as The Absinthe Drinker, was expected to fetch up to 38 million pounds in 2006, but the auction was blocked at the last minute. The dispute surrounding the 1903 work was finally resolved in January this year. The painting, which Picasso completed when he was 22, will be the highlight of Christie's Impressionist and Modern Art Sale in London on June 23.

Jussi Pylkkanen, president of Christie's Europe, Russia and the Middle East department, said it was 'one of the most important works of art to be offered at auction in decades'. "The opportunity to acquire such a masterpiece of 20th century art is sure to prompt great excitement amongst collectors and institutions around the world," the Daily Express quoted him as saying.

"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," he added.

The dispute over its ownership occurred after Professor Julius Schoeps, an heir to Berlin banker Paul von Mendelssohn Bartholdy, claimed his ancestor had to sell it at a low price after being forced to flee the Nazis The Andrew Lloyd Webber Art Foundation bought it in 1995 for 18 million pounds. Lord Lloyd- Webber said then that the artwork was "mesmeric". The foundation said on March 17 that all the proceeds from the sale would benefit arts, culture and heritage in Britain.

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