NEW YORK.- Highlighting Sotheby's sale of Contemporary Art on Tuesday evening, May 10th is Andy Warhol's magnificent Liz. Executed between October and November 1963, this work is one of a rare series of thirteen paintings of Elizabeth Taylor that Warhol made on colored backgrounds. It is the only painting in the series that has a vibrant 'naphthol red light' background, and as with all but one of these works, Liz measures 40 by 40 inches. This painting is estimated to sell for $9/12 million.
This series of colored Liz paintings represents the apotheosis of Warhol's creative vision, both as the technician of the (still then) revolutionary silkscreen process, and the architect of the various ideas he employed to build monuments to the vagaries of mortality, celebrity and fame. As with his images of Marilyn Monroe, Warhol's depictions of Elizabeth Taylor display not so much his ambition to record the prose of physical likeness, but more his love affair with the drama and glamour of celebrity.
Coming from an important Private Collection where it has remained since 1965, the present work is in pristine condition. Liz resonates with a crisp registration of the silkscreen, affording the hair, eyes, nose and lips a wonderful plasticity and detail. This clarity of image is further enhanced by the saturated crimson red background, pushing the silhouette out of the picture plane and lusciously conveying the film star's lips. Color is crucial to any appreciation of Warhol's art and red, above any other color, was reserved for Warhol's most concentrated and important compositions.
Warhol's deep involvement with the image of Elizabeth Taylor appeared early in his career, beginning with his paintings dealing with disaster, death and the news media in 1961. In the summer of 1963, Taylor's role as an icon of luxury, decadence, sexuality and celebrity was at its height, when Warhol chose a publicity shot of the actress taken in the late 1950s to match the iconic pose he was using in his silkscreen paintings of Marilyn Monroe. With his Liz portraits, Warhol inaugurated the most classic format for his modern muses - the 40 x 40 inch canvases in which his goddess is centrally placed and evenly balanced. Set against bold colors, the thirteen Liz paintings command our attention and seduce our senses. The Marilyn and Jackie paintings in this format followed in the summer of 1964. Like iconic madonnas, the images of these three women were refined down to their basic attributes contrasted dramatically against brilliant colored backgrounds; in the case of Liz Taylor, her abundant dark hair, her brilliantly hued eyes, her perfectly arched brow and her voluptuous red lips were the signs of her immortality as a public image.