LONDON Billionaire playboy Gunter Sachs, once married to French actress Brigitte Bardot, felt so sorry for Andy Warhol when his works went unsold at a major European show that he secretly bought half the collection to make the artist feel better.
Works by Warhol are among the highlights of the German-born jet-setter's collection of some 300 paintings, photographs and pieces of furniture which will go on sale in May at Sotheby's in London and are set to raise 20 million pounds ($31 million).
Sachs, famous for his life in the fast lane and womanizing ways, first met Warhol in St Tropez, France in the early 1960s and they became lifelong friends.
The heir to the Opel car dynasty, Sachs presented the first major Warhol exhibition in Europe at his Hamburg gallery in 1972, but on opening night not a single picture sold.
Years later, Sachs jokingly thanked the people of Hamburg for passing on the opportunity to snap up Warhols, thereby enabling him to make one of the most commercially astute decisions of his life as a collector.
Sotheby's chairman of contemporary art in Europe, Cheyenne Westphal, called Sachs "one of the most visionary and influential collectors of the 20th century.
"Gunter Sachs collected extensively and in depth across many categories, and he very much believed that art should be lived with."
Sachs killed himself at his home in the Swiss resort of Gstaad last year aged 78, saying in a suicide note that he had been suffering from a "hopeless illness".
His art collection goes on sale on May 22 and 23 and showcases pieces by famous artists and photographers like Roy Lichtenstein and Richard Avedon.
A 1974 Warhol portrait of Bardot, whom Sachs courted by hovering in a helicopter over her villa in France and dropping hundreds of red roses into her garden, is expected to fetch 3-4 million pounds.
An Avedon photograph of 1959 on which the silkscreen portrait was based is set to raise 40-60,000 pounds.
One of Warhol's last self-portraits, "Pink Fright Wig", from his final series in 1986 also features in the auction and is expected to fetch 2-3 million pounds.
The sale also includes furniture and Sachs' own photographs in addition to paintings by Salvador Dali, Yves Klein and Rene Magritte.
Sachs was married three times, first to Anne-Marie Faure, then to Bardot and finally to Swedish former model Mirja Larsson who survives him along with his three sons.
He was the chairman of the St. Moritz Bobsleigh Club from 1969 until his death and wrote about astrology.
(Additional reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)