Cavalcade of bling owned by late film-star makes UK stop on world tour that finishes with an auction in New York in December.
Even in death, it seems, Elizabeth Taylor knows how to put on a show. Her legacy rolled into Britain on the second leg of a world tour to regale fans via the medium of diamonds, pearls and outrageous haute-couture.
Inside auctioneers Christie’s London HQ, reporters jostled with photographers and the dignitaries tripped over the TV cables. It was part showcase and part circus. All that was missing was the woman herself.
Highlights from the Elizabeth Taylor collection plays to the public this weekend before moving on to Paris, Dubai and Hong Kong before a grand, everything-must-go auction in New York in December. The collection includes paintings by Degas, Renoir and Van Gogh and dresses by Valentino and Versace. All in all, it paints a vivid picture of a person with expensive tastes and the means to sate them.
“Elizabeth Taylor was the last great movie star, the queen of Hollywood,” explained Jonathan Rendell, deputy chairman of Christie’s Americas. “She was – can we say? — an enthusiastic collector of couture, of paintings and, most of all, of jewels. What all this reveals, I think, is a woman who understood her contract with the public. She knew she had to provide them with glamour. She never left the house without looking perfect.”
The two-time Oscar-winner died in March at the age of 79, leaving behind a vast array of personal effects, including 269 individual jewels and a wardrobe bulging with an estimated 400 outfits. December’s four-day auction is expected to fetch upwards of $50m (£32m), with a portion of the proceeds earmarked for the Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation. Rendell could not say where the rest would go. “I’m not privy to the wishes of the trustees,” he said.
Whether mounted behind glass or draped on mannequins, the items serve as an index of a life lived in the limelight. The couture section contains the black velvet evening cape, emblazoned with giant silver scorpions, that Taylor wore to the 40th-birthday party of Princess Grace of Monaco, together with the silk chiffon wedding dress from the first of her two marriages to fellow actor Richard Burton. Pride of place goes to the luxuriantly beaded Tiziani kimono that enthusiasts may remember from the 1960s melodrama Boom. While Joseph Losey’s film bombed at the box office, the kimono, praise be, emerged unscathed.
The collection also finds room for Taylor’s personal art collection, where a Van Gogh landscape (estimate price $5m-$7m) sits cheek by jowl with a Degas self-portrait and a scene of rustic France from the Fauvist artist Maurice de Vlaminck. A separate room is given over to Andy Warhol’s classic silkscreens, together with a letter of thanks from the subject herself. “Dearest Andy,” it reads. “I’m so proud I finally have your ‘Liz’ and thank you for signing it so sweetly to me. I do love you. Elizabeth or Liz (of Andy Warhol fame).”
For most visitors, however, the highlight is likely to be the jewellery. There, glittering under glass, lies the Mike Todd diamond tiara which sat atop the actor’s head at the 1957 Oscars. The 33.19-carat Elizabeth Taylor diamond was her personal favourite stone and one that she wore every day. Viewed from a distance, the JAR sapphire earclips might be a pair of especially gaudy Christmas baubles, while legend has it that the ping-pong diamond rings were Taylor’s reward for besting Burton in a game of table-tennis. According to Christie’s, the jewellery alone is expected to fetch between $35m and $40m when it goes under the hammer. “But we’re known for being quite conservative with our estimates,” said Rendell. “It’s going to be a popular sale.”
As visitors shuffled between the display cases, the late actor beamed down on them from a series of arty black-and-white posters, each adorned with a pithy quotation. “The more the better has always been my motto,” said Taylor in one.
Over by the exit, another poster struck a cautionary note for any millionaire magpie who is tempted to throw open their chequebook. “You can’t possess radiance,” it warned. “You can only admire it.”