A Francis Bacon self-portrait failed to sell at auction in New York Wednesday, in another sign the souring economy is having a crushing effect on fall season art sales.

Bacon's 1964 "Study for Self Portrait" — billed as a highlight of Christie's contemporary art auction — was estimated to take in some $40 million.

But when the bidding stopped at $27.4 million the esteemed auction house halted the proceedings, to a chorus of gasps.

A Bacon triptych went under the hammer in New York last May for $86.2 million, a record for the British painter.

Seventy-five contemporary works were on sale Wednesday. Among the most important lots was a Jean-Michel Basquiat painter of a boxer, owned by Metallica co-founder and drummer Lars Ulrich, which fetched just over $13.5 million but short of the record $14.6 million for a Basquiat.

The global financial tsunami has not spared the art market, and sales of impressionist, modern and contemporary works since the fall season kicked off November 3 have been well below previous levels.

The number of unsold works has often exceeded 30 or 40 percent of lots this month, and barring a few notable exceptions the sales prices are on the whole lower than the estimates for the majority of pieces.