Liz Taylor will dazzle L.A. one last time
The jewelry from seven husbands. The wardrobe of a ‘60s jet-setter. The memorabilia of a Hollywood icon, including a love poem by Bob Dylan that he scrawled on a framed publicity poster of himself and dedicated to “Elizabeth, Sweetheart, Dream angel, Queen-of-the world.”
These are among more than 2,000 objects that belonged to Elizabeth Taylor and are being auctioned by Christie’s in mid-December in New York.
They have already been on display in London and Moscow and will travel to other capitals of wealth. But for four days in October, Taylor’s collection will be back in Los Angeles, where she lived most of her life and died at age 79 in March.
The auction preview will take place Oct. 13-16 at MOCA’s Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, with admission costing $20. Anyone lucky enough to put their nose inside Taylor’s Vuitton luggage set will still be able to smell her perfume.
Marc Porter, chairman of Christie’s Americas, said that before she died she had formalized arrangements to auction her jewels, clothes, memorabilia and art.
“As much as she was the untouchable, most glamorous person in Hollywood, she was also extremely grounded and had a sense of her mortality,” Porter said.
The fine jewelry is the core of the collection because “of its staggering depth,” Porter said. It also accounts for $30 million of the $50 million Christie’s expects to raise by the sale; the proceeds will go to her estate and a portion of profits generated by events and publications will be donated to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.
After viewing the jewelry in London last week, Vivienne Becker, a British jewelry historian and author, said it was likely to bring in considerably more than $30 million. She thought the quality of the gemstones and design might even inspire houses such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels to attempt to buy back Taylor’s pieces for their own archives.
“The quality was higher than I ever imagined,” Becker said. “I also think everyone is hungry for the star quality that Elizabeth Taylor epitomized. Especially nowadays when actresses all dress down and walk around with their coffee cups and sneakers and wear jewelry on the red carpet that they don’t even own. Elizabeth Taylor owned it, she wore it well and she loved it.”
Despite the global financial crisis, Becker predicted that “big buyers are out there for fine jewels that have the winning combination of provenance, great design and top, top quality.”
Rahul Kadakia, head of jewelry for Christie’s Americas, said he already knew of at least one buyer for the colossal diamond ring known as the “Krupp,” which Richard Burton gave Taylor in 1968 and Christie’s rebranded as “The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond.”
The 33.19-carat ring, which she wore just about every day, is valued for the sale at $2.5 million to $3.5 million, but a slightly smaller ring of similar quality belonging to the late Leonore Annenberg sold two years ago for $7.7 million.
“The underbidder offered $6.9 million, and she’s still around,” Kadakia said. “In fact, I know five women who will be interested in that ring.”
Most of Taylor’s jewels are being marketed with photographs of her wearing them, along with tales of great intimacy between her and the men who loved and bejeweled her.
Michael Todd, who died in a plane crash a year after their 1957 marriage, gave Taylor a Cartier ruby suite — necklace, bracelet and earrings — while she was swimming laps in their pool in the south of France and wearing a diamond tiara he had bought her. She saw the rubies, squealed, threw her arms around him and pulled him into the water, as the story goes.
Richard Burton gave her perhaps the most historic gem of the collection — La Peregrina, a large, 16th century pear-shaped pearl that was once owned by Spanish King Philip II. Burton, more than any of her other husbands and admirers, showered Taylor with jewels and clearly enjoyed selecting them with her at his side.
“I introduced Liz to beer,” he famously noted, “and she introduced me to Bulgari.”
In 1970, while they were playing table tennis at their Swiss chalet, he told Taylor that if she could take 10 points off him, he’d buy her diamonds. She did — and he ponied up for three tiny rings known now as the “ping-pong diamond.”
A diamond ring from the late Michael Jackson doesn’t quite measure up to the taste of Burton and Todd, according to Becker: “It’s just not among the best pieces.”
The clothes in the sale reflect a woman who adored color, flash and glamour. Of 18 racks of clothes, there is hardly anything in black. She had relatively few shoes for a woman of her means, though there are 22 pairs of cowboy boots and 221 bags, mostly Chanel or Dior. She owned numerous bolero jackets and several Christian Dior couture gowns in sorbet colors with “1965” sewn into the labels.
The collection also includes less dazzling items that reflect the ups and downs of a woman whom many fans could relate to because she openly expressed emotions.
There is a copy of “Nibbles and Me,” the children’s book she wrote at age 13 about her real-life adventures with a chipmunk; a black turban she wore to Burton’s 1984 funeral; a small AIDS ribbon still pinned to a tiny-waisted ball gown she wore to a fundraiser for the cause she championed, as well as a selection of caftans worn in her later years.
Starting in December Christie’s will also auction Taylor’s art collection at various sales — most notably Impressionist work that shows she was not afraid of color and prized flowering beauty over avant-garde edginess. Her father, Francis Lenn Taylor, was an American art dealer who worked in New York and London before setting up shop in the Beverly Hills Hotel; he helped her acquire several pieces.
Porter called the art “a classic type of collection assembled in the ‘50s and ‘60s. All of the great Hollywood collectors have those artists — Van Gogh, Degas, Pissarro, Renoir, the Impressionists.”
Taylor’s Van Gogh, which used to hang above the sofa in her Bel-Air living room, and her Pissarro are both essentially paintings of gardens. She knew flowers intimately and designed her own gardens and chose scents for her perfume collection. The Van Gogh was done in 1889, the same year as “The Starry Night,” and at an estimated value of $5 million to $7 million is the priciest in her collection.
Other artworks, estimated well under six figures, are expected to bring premiums as souvenirs of her friendships with artists like David Hockney and Andy Warhol, who famously painted an image of “Liz” based on a publicity still. She had a lithograph version dedicated to her by the artist and a tiny ink drawing of big red lips by him that says, “To Elizabeth a big kiss Andy Warhol.”
Porter said he expects that Angelenos will lap up a last view of one of their own.
“We know that the jewelry is the most important privately held collection to come to market in America, but how that will translate into terms of the premium paid by clients in Asia versus in the West, well, we will see the night of the sales,” Porter said. “But this is Elizabeth Taylor. We suspect people will at least want a look.”
Times staff writer Jori Finkel in Los Angeles contributed to this report.