An original cover painting from the 1963 comic book "Asterix and Cleopatra" went under the hammer Sunday but failed to find a buyer after a legal challenge from the artist's daughter.

The famous gouache, showing the ancient Egyptian ruler reclining and the two Gaulish heroes Asterix and Obelix, was to be sold by the Brussels auction house Millon.

Measuring 32 by 17 centimetres (12.6 by 7 inches), it was expected to fetch 400,000 to 500,000 euros ($430,000-540,00) but no bid matched the reserve price and it remained unsold.

Millon director general Arnaud de Partz told AFP that buyers had perhaps been scared off by the legal complaint of the daughter of the late French illustrator Albert Uderzo.

Sylvie Uderzo argued that if her father had given the painting away he would have signed and dedicated it, and thus the painting must have been stolen.

Millon said it is selling the work on behalf of the son of a man who was given it more than 50 years ago by Uderzo, the co-creator of the Asterix series, who died in 2020.

His daughter lodged a complaint with Belgian prosecutors on November 27 but, according to a letter seen by AFP, they found no grounds to suspect a crime had been committed.

Sylvie Uderzo's lawyer Orly Rezlan had warned that any buyer of the cover painting could be prosecuted for receiving stolen goods, a claim the auctioneers rejected.

"During his lifetime, Albert Uderzo publicly stated that he would oppose the sale of any drawing that did not include his dedication," Rezlan argued last week.

Uderzo, she said, had always said of original plates without dedications that "If you bring one to me, I'll dedicate it to you".

But auctioneers Millon argued that many other non-dedicated pieces by Uderzo had already been put up for public auction.


The daughter of French cartoonist Albert Uderzo has tried to block the sale, saying the painting must have been stolen / © AFP

The house has also produced a photograph in which a man presented as the owner of the drawing shares a meal with Uderzo and his wife at a hotel in Normandy in the late 1960s.

- Growing market -

"We showed this photo to Sylvie Uderzo to show her that the sellers' father knew her father well," de Partz said.

The story Asterix and Cleopatre appeared as a serial in the magazine Pilote in 1963 and was bound as the sixth book-length adventure in the series in 1965.

The cover art parodies the poster for the 1963 Hollywood epic "Cleopatra", then the most expensive ever made, with Uderzo's Cleopatre in the same pose as its star Elizabeth Taylor.

Asterix, the plucky Gaulish hero, stands in for Rex Harrison's Julius Caesar and his portly sidekick Obelix for Richard Burton's Marc Antony.

In recent years art from the original editions of beloved French and Belgian comic book successes like Asterix or Tintin has attracted wealthy collectors and investors.

In February, the original 1942 cover art of "Tintin in America" by Belgium's Herge was sold in Paris for 2.16 million euros.

But the estates of the late comic book writers and illustrators fiercely guard the rights to what have become global brands, and several sales have attracted controversy.