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Warhol’s Liz Taylor Face May Fetch $11.6 Million at Christie’s

An Andy Warhol painting of Elizabeth Taylor estimated at as much as 8 million pounds ($11.6 million) is among several high-value lots entered in a London auction as dealers see renewed confidence in the contemporary-art market.

Christie’s International said it expected its 63-lot sale of contemporary works on June 30 to raise at least 40.6 million pounds. The equivalent event last year, containing 40 lots, carried a low estimate of 17.4 million pounds.

During the financial crisis, auction houses slashed estimates to maintain success rates at contemporary-art sales. Average auction prices at evening sales of contemporary works now stand at 2.9 million pounds, up from 1.4 million pounds last year, the London-based research company ArtTactic said in a report published in May.

“It’s a different mood from last year,” Francis Outred, Christie’s European head of contemporary art, said in an interview. “People now know what they’re worth and what they can spend, and this has gradually opened the doors of the sellers.” The percentage of works selling above estimates has increased dramatically in the last six months, Outred said.

The 1963 Warhol “Liz” is one of two paintings with silver backgrounds that highlight the actress’s violet-colored eyes. It has been entered by an unidentified U.S.-based collector who was encouraged by the $18.3 million achieved for a two-panel silver “Liz” at Christie’s New York in May, exceeding its presale estimate, said Outred.

Hugh Grant’s Liz

The latest canvas was last seen on the auction market in 1989, when it failed to sell against a low estimate of $1.5 million. Another 1963 Warhol “Liz” of the same size, with a range of colors, was sold by the actor Hugh Grant for $23.6 million at Christie’s, New York, in November 2007.

The June sale will also include a 1982 “Untitled” painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat valued at 2.5 million pounds to 3.5 million pounds, and the similarly estimated Jeff Koons painting, “Loopy,” from the 1999 “Easyfun” series.

Glenn Brown’s 1992 painting, “Dali-Christ,” is one of three works in the auction that were included in the “Sensation” exhibition of young British art at the Royal Academy in 1997. The 9-foot-high (2.7 meter) version of Salvador Dali’s 1936 vision of the Spanish Civil War, “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans,” was in Brown’s graduation show at Goldsmith’s College. It is expected to sell for as much as 1 million pounds.

Haunch of Venison

Meanwhile, Christie’s contemporary-art gallery, Haunch of Venison, is shaking up its London-based personnel and business. Last week, the dealership, which also has spaces in New York and Berlin, announced that its founding directors Harry Blain and Graham Southern would be leaving on Aug. 31. They will open their own gallery in London in 2011.

“We’re looking at premises in Mayfair,” Blain said in an interview. “At the moment we’re not sure which one we’re going to take.”

Renowned for his expertise in the secondary market -- for re-offered works -- Blain showed Damien Hirst’s 1996 taxidermy- in-formaldehyde piece, “This Little Piggy Went to Market, This Little Piggy Stayed at Home,” on Haunch’s booth at the European Fine Art Fair, Maastricht, in March, priced at $12 million.

Blain established Haunch in a 6,500-square-foot building at 6 Haunch of Venison Yard, Mayfair, in 2002. The dealership was acquired by Christie’s for an undisclosed sum in 2007. The following February, Haunch moved into 30,000 square-foot galleries in Burlington Gardens leased for three years from the Royal Academy of Arts.

New Director

The dealership plans to return to its refurbished and expanded gallery in Haunch of Venison Yard in April 2011, said the London branch’s new director, Matthew Carey-Williams, Christie’s former European head of private sales of contemporary art.

“Though the synergy between Christie’s and Haunch of Venison will continue, the principal focus will be new work by artists,” Carey-Williams said in an interview. “Haunch isn’t the private sales wing of Christie’s.”

Christie’s is a private company owned by the French billionaire Francois Pinault. The auction house was bought by Pinault’s holding company, Artemis SA, for $1.2 billion in May, 1998. It doesn’t report revenue or profit, though it gives sale totals twice a year.

Trading at Haunch of Venison was included in 265.7 million pounds of private sales for 2009 when Christie’s released its annual report in January.

(Scott Reyburn writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Scott Reyburn in London at sreyburn@hotmail.com.

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