Rare Warhol self portrait to go under hammer

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A rare Andy Warhol self portrait in stark white and red, which had been in private hands for over 30 years, will go on sale at Christie’s in London next month, anchoring the auctioneer’s post-war and contemporary art offering.

Visitors look at paintings by U.S. artist Andy Warhol during the exhibition "Le grand Monde d'Andy Warhol" (The World of Andy Warhol) at the Grand Palais museum in Paris March 17, 2009. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

The unusually large canvas, 6 feet by 6 feet (1.8 m by 1.8m) features the pensive artist staring straight at the viewer but with half his face swallowed in a shadow of blood red paint. One of 11 self-portraits in this 1967 series, it is the only one restricted to two colors.

Christie’s estimates a gavel price of three to 5 million pounds ($8 million) for the painting.

“This is one of the missing pieces of the Holy Grail,” said Amy Cappellazzo, Christie’s co-head of contemporary and post-war art. It was put up for sale by the estate of the painting’s purchaser, who is now deceased, she added.

Warhol was at the height of celebrity when he first exhibited the painting along with the 10 other portraits at the Montreal, Canada 1967 World’s Fair, known as Expo 67.

The self-portrait disappeared from view after it was bought in 1974 from Warhol’s main dealer, Leo Castelli.

The Warhol is part of Christie’s post-war and contemporary art auction on February 16-17 in London, comprised of 64 works and estimated at a total of up to 66.4 million pounds ($105.8 million).

The sale will feature works by Damien Hirst, Gerhard Richter and Jean-Michel Basquiat, among others.

Also notable is American artist Jeff Koons’ “Winter Bears,” a hand carved pair of grinning cartoon bears holding hands estimated at up to 3.5 million pounds ($5.5 million).

The 1988 sculpture, Cappellazzo said, is meant as a play on the line between high and low art: while cartoonish and kitschy, they are also beautiful and original.

At the very least, she said, “They’re so cute.”

Reporting by Basil Katz; Editing by Patricia Reaney