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Elizabeth Taylor portrait sells for about $27 million

By Chris Kokenes, CNN
"Liz #5," a portrait of Elizabeth Taylor by Andy Warhol, fetched nearly $27 million at an auction Thursday.
"Liz #5," a portrait of Elizabeth Taylor by Andy Warhol, fetched nearly $27 million at an auction Thursday.
  • Silkscreen "Liz #5" sells for $26,962,500 at an auction
  • It's among several pieces by Andy Warhol that celebrate the American actress
  • Taylor died in March at age 79.
  • Her death brings a renewed interest to the piece, expert says

New York (CNN) -- A portrait of actress Elizabeth Taylor by Andy Warhol raked in $26,962,500 on the auction block Thursday.

Three other Warhol pieces -- "Flowers," "Third Eye" and "Witch" -- were also sold at the auction conducted by Phillips de Pury & Co. in Manhattan. Each sold for $8,146,500, $7,026,500 and $2,658,500, respectively.

Taylor died in March at age 79.

"Liz #5" (1963) didn't come close to breaking the record for a Warhol -- his "Green car crash-Green burning car I" (1963) sold for more than $71 million -- but it did come close to the sale price of more than $23 million for "Liz" (1963) when it was auctioned at Christie's auction house in 2007.

The silkscreen, which is one of a number of pieces by Warhol that celebrate the American actress, was offered by art collector and hedge fund financier Steve Cohen.

Prior to its sale, "Liz #5" garnered a lot of interest in the art world, said Michael McGinnis, who heads the contemporary department at Philips de Pury & Co. He guessed that Taylor's death would bring a renewed interest to the piece, but that its artistry makes it valuable on its own.

"In terms of its impeccable provenance and the quality of the silkscreen, this has perfect qualities," McGinnis said of the piece.

Before its acquisition in 2007 for an undisclosed price, "Liz #5" belonged to famed art dealer and collector Ileana Sonnabend, who was an early admirer of Warhol.

Art under the hammer
Elizabeth Taylor, in her own words
March: Elizabeth Taylor's estate

In the early 1960s, Warhol, who was enamored by the glamorized and beautiful images of Hollywood stars, began his streak of works featuring iconic products and celebrities, including Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and, of course, Taylor.

In 1963, Taylor was already a giant in Hollywood, with movies like "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958) and "Butterfield 8" (1960), for which she won an Oscar, propelling her to the height of fame.

The movie "Cleopatra" (1963) catapulted Taylor further as her off-screen romances monopolized Hollywood gossip magazines.

"Liz #5" is a silkscreen picture of ink and acrylic on linen. Measuring 40-by-40 inches, it reveals Taylor's face as she was already a presence in American culture. She appears on a turquoise background, her skin a glowing pink, her unmistakable eyes painted violet and her lips lathered in red.

The colored "Liz" series includes 13 pieces.

In his 2007 book "Andy Warhol Portraits," art gallery owner and artist Tony Shafrazi pays homage to the artist whom he first met in 1965. He was a friend until Warhol's death in 1987.

"He was interested in movie stars and their sense of beauty," Shafrazi said.

As simple a process as it may appear, he says that in 1963, the silkscreen image process that Warhol used was very rare and new.

For Shafrazi, Warhol's work reflected the assembly-line format that the American experience was projecting onto the world at the time. And even though the U.S. mass-produced items, Warhol's work meant to show that each item is independent of the other, even though there is sameness.

Shafrazi said that when he met Taylor years ago, the actress, who once told journalist Barbara Walters that she hated to be called "Liz," told him that she was fond of Warhol's paintings.

CNN's Leigh Remizowski contributed to this report