Christie's cancels Miro art sale over Portugal dispute
A member of staff poses for pictures next to a painting by Spanish artist Joan Miro entitled 'Peinture-L'Oiseau' at Christie's auction house in central London, on September 12, 2013 - by Carl Court
The paintings became Portuguese state property following the nationalisation of the BPN bank in 2008 and their sale has been met with fierce opposition by art lovers in Portugal.
But the cash-strapped Portuguese government has argued that the sale of the paintings would bring a much-needed injection of funds.
Earlier on Tuesday a Portuguese court rejected a request from the opposition Socialist party for the sale to be halted.
However, hours before the first of the paintings were due to go under the hammer, Christie's said it would not go ahead with the sale because of the "legal uncertainties" surrounding the works.
"The sale of the collection of 85 works by Joan Miro has been cancelled as a result of a dispute before the Portuguese court, to which Christie's is not a party," the auction house said.
"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.
"We have a responsibility to our buyers to be sure that legal title can transfer to them without issue.
"Since the court's decision calls this into question at this time, Christie's is required to withdraw the works from sale.
"We hope that the parties in this dispute can resolve their differences in due course."
Christie's has described the paintings as one of the largest and most impressive Miro collections ever put on sale.
It includes one of Miro's most notable works, "Women and Birds", which Christie's has valued at between £4 million and £7 million ($6.6 million-$11.5 million, 4.9 million-8.5 million euros).
The works were to have been part of a major auction at Christie's on Tuesday and Wednesday which also features works by Picasso, Mondrian and Monet, and had been expected to fetch more than $300 million.