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Andy Warhol painting of Elizabeth Taylor could fetch $30 million in May 12 auction

March 24, 2011 |  1:33 pm

Celebrity death and marketability go hand and hand, which could bode well for the unidentified private owner whose sale of an iconic Andy Warhol painting of Elizabeth Taylor was announced Thursday by the auction house Phillips de Pury & Co.

The estimated price for “Liz #5,” painted in 1963, is $20 million to $30 million. Is this a bid to exploit Taylor’s death?

“The events are not connected,” said Giulia Costantini, spokeswoman for the London-based Phillips, which will include “Liz #5” in a previously scheduled contemporary art sale in New York on May 12.

Costantini said the owner consigned the painting for auction two weeks ago, and that announcing the offering on the same day Taylor’s death dominated headlines was not an attempt to exploit it. “At this point we always make announcements of highlights of our [spring] sales,” she said.

“Liz #5” had belonged to Ileana Sonnabend, a prominent New York art dealer, until her death in October 2007 and the seller acquired it from her estate. Sonnabend represented Warhol, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, among other contemporary art stars;  Phillips’ announcement said this is the first time a work from her estate has come onto the open market.

According to Phillips’ sales announcement for “Liz #5,” the piece “embodies the most important themes of Warhol’s ouevre including celebrity, wealth, scandal, sex, death and Hollywood….In [Warhol’s] own words he once said 'Elizabeth Taylor, ohhh. She’s so glamorous.' "

Costantini noted that Phillips’ New York auction of a 1962 Warhol work, “Men in Her Life,” fetched $63.3 million -- the highest auction price paid in 2010 for a contemporary artwork and the second-highest auction price ever paid for a Warhol painting, behind  the $71.7 million (including auctioneer's premium) paid in 2007 for his 1963 “Green car crash -- Green burning car I.” That total doubled the $35 million top pre-auction estimate set by Christie’s.


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 -- Mike Boehm

Photo: Andy Warhol's "Liz #5." Credit: Courtesy of Phillips de Pury & Co.