The nude photo of Brooke Shields as a child actress – removed from the Tate Modern just hours before it was due to go on show – may break the Obscene Publications Act if displayed, say police.

In a statement the Metropolitan Police said: ‘Officers from the Metropolitan Police Service Obscene Publications Unit met with staff at the Tate Modern on 30 September regarding an image which was part of an exhibition due to open at the gallery on Thursday 1 October.

‘The officers have specialist experience in this field and are keen to work with gallery management to ensure that they do not inadvertently break the law or cause any offence to their visitors.’

The work, called Spiritual America – by artist Richard Prince – shows Brooke Shields standing naked in a bath in 1975.

It had been due to be displayed in a separate room away from other exhibits, with a warning outside.

A spokeswoman for Tate Modern said this morning: ‘The room has been temporarily closed. We are in discussion with police. We will provide an update as soon as possible.’

The Met spokesman refused to confirm whether officers had ordered the museum to remove the image, saying: ‘We advised them accordingly.’

Asked if the museum may reinstate the picture to the exhibition he said: ‘The decision as to whether to display it or not rests with Tate Modern.’

The police spokesman added that, as a matter of routine, the Met would have consulted with the Crown Prosecution Service before advising the museum.

Speaking before the image was taken down, Michele Elliott of Kidscape said it was ‘bordering on child pornography’.

Yesterday the Met told Amateur Photographer that it would investigate any complaint made about the nude picture of the ten-year-old Brooke Shields to establish ‘whether an offence has occurred’.

It is not clear whether a complaint had been made to police ahead of the exhibition opening.

A Met spokesman said he was not aware of any complaint over the image which had yet to go on public display.

The ‘photograph of a photograph’ has been displayed lawfully in the United States.

The original photo was taken by US photographer Garry Gross who has said he is ‘disappointed’ at the decision to remove the work, according to a report by the Daily Telegraph.

It was due to go on show from today. Most recently it was shown at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

The exhibition, Pop Life: Art in a Material World, runs at Tate Modern until 17 January 2010.