An ‘Asterix’ Cover Painting Fails to Sell at Auction After the Artist’s Daughter Claims It Was Stolen

The auction house’s director general says buyers may have been scared off by the legal complaint.

Albert Uderzo, the French author and illustrator who launched the Asterix comics strip character in 1959 with author Rene Goscinny, poses with the statues of his character Obelix in 2007 in Paris. Photo Stephane de Sakutin/AFP via Getty Images.

The original cover painting from the famed 1963 comic book Astérix and Cleopatra failed to sell at auction on Sunday, December 10, as reported by Le Monde, after the artist’s daughter had filed a legal challenge to the sale, saying the work was stolen.

The gouache drawing is by the late French illustrator Albert Uderzo, co-creator (with René Goscinny) and illustrator of the series, and shows Cleopatra and the two French heroes Astérix and Obelix. It echoes the composition of the poster for the 1963 film Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and Rex Harrison, in which the Egyptian ruler reclines while flanked by the two men. 

Brussels auction house Millon had estimated the piece to sell for about $430,000 to $540,000. The auction house’s director general, Arnaud de Partz, told AFP that buyers may have been scared off by the legal complaint. 

Millon claims that the seller received the drawing as a gift from Uderzo more than five decades ago. The artist’s daughter Sylvie argues that, since the piece is not inscribed as a gift, it must be stolen. She lodged a complaint with Belgian authorities on November 27. Her lawyer asserts that anyone who buys the work could be accused of receiving stolen goods. 

“During his lifetime, Albert Uderzo publicly stated that he would oppose the sale of any drawing that did not include his dedication,” Orly Rezlan said recently. Uderzo, she said, had always said of original plates without dedications: “If you bring one to me, I’ll dedicate it to you.”

Millon, meanwhile, argues that numerous non-inscribed pieces have come to auction before. They have also produced a photograph of the seller’s father dining with Uderzo at a hotel in Normandy in the 1960s, to demonstrate that they were close. 

The beloved story of Astérix and Cleopatra was serialized in the magazine Pilote in 1963 and published as a book in 1965. It has been adapted for the screen twice: first as an animated film in 1968 and as a 2002 live-action film. 

Comic book and fantasy art has achieved great sales results at auction recently. A Frank Frazetta painting of a warrior sold for $6 million recently, setting a record for any work in the genre; two early Superman comics fetched a combined $3 million at auction; and comic book dealers were notching six-figure sales at New York’s Comic Con last year, as Artnet News’s Sarah Cascone reported.


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