A Japanese department store said Tuesday that it bought Pablo Picasso's "Acrobat and Young Harlequin" for a record $38.46 million and plans to sell the Rose Period masterpiece to a buyer in Tokyo.

The pink-and-rose painting of two circus performers sold Monday for the highest price ever paid at auction for a work of art created in this century.It also was the third most expensive work of art ever auctioned. It is surpassed only by two late 19th century paintings by Vincent van Gogh sold in 1987, "Irises" at $53.9 million and "Sunflowers" at $41.3 million.

Yasuhiro Tanaka, a spokesman for Mitsukoshi Department Store, said in Tokyo that its representative Akio Nishino bought the Picasso painting at the Christie's auction in London on behalf of the store.

"We bought the painting expecting to sell it to a private buyer here in Tokyo," Tanaka said.

But he said the store, which is a major importer of art into Japan, had not decided on specific plans for displaying or selling the painting.

He didn't speak to reporters but wore a big smile. A director said the man was emotionally exhausted.

"We offered him a glass of champagne, but he didn't like it and had Coca-Cola instead," said Mark Wrey, spokesman for the auction house.

"The buyer told me he had bought a most wonderful masterpiece. He didn't question the price - he was very excited."

Japan's imports of art and curios have ballooned in recent years as increasingly affluent Japanese turn to collecting as a form of investment.

Japan's Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance Co. bought van Gogh's "Sunflowers" when it was sold at Christie's in London in March 1987. Dealers estimate that at least 30 percent of worldwide art sales are to Japanese buyers, often large corporations that buy for tax-free investment purposes.

Picasso painted "Acrobat and Young Harlequin" in 1905 in his Paris studio at 13 rue Ravignon using gouache, an opaque watercolor easier to handle than oil paint.

After being shown in Paris in 1905, it found its way into a German museum and was confiscated by the Nazis in 1937 as an example of decadent art. They sold it at auction in Switzerland to a Belgian collector, and it had been in private hands since.