Most readers of Michael Crichton know him through his bestselling science thrillers such as Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain. But now, a new side to the millionaire author is revealed through his art collection. Two years after his death in 2008, four paintings from his private collection worth an estimated £20m are to be put up for sale, and will, according to experts, present another side of Crichton's creativity.
Crichton developed a close friendship with the American artist Jasper Johns. Despite Johns's iconoclastic work Flag being condemned as "disrespectful" and "simple-minded" by the critics, Crichton fell in love with it. Buying it straight from the artist's studio nearly 30 years ago, it lay in Crichton's collection, unseen by the public for nearly two decades, until now.
Flag will go under the hammer along with three other paintings from Crichton's impressive collection – Femme et filettes (Woman and Children) by Pablo Picasso, Studio Painting (Combine) by Robert Rauschenberg and Girl in Water by Roy Lichtenstein – at the Christie's sale in New York on 11 May. They will be on public view in London from today until Friday.
Crichton is known as the creator of the television hospital series ER. His novels have sold more than 150 million copies worldwide, including Timeline, The Lost World and State of Fear. Several of these books, including Jurassic Park, have been adapted for film. He also wrote and directed films such as The First Great Train Robbery, starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland.
Brett Gorvey, deputy chairman of Christie's in America, said the paintings provided "incredible insight into the mind and personal journey that Michael Crichton made as a collector ... We are thrilled to be exhibiting an extremely rare example of Jasper Johns's Flag, one of the most famous icons of American art. Flag had an enormous impact on artists worldwide. It is an image which literally changed the course of art history."
The American flag recreation, which Johns painted after a dream about the star-spangled banner, has never been on the open market before. It was last seen in public 18 years ago as part of a Pop Art exhibition organised by the Royal Academy in London.
Crichton described how "the act of painting a flag at this time seemed to many observers an absurdity: an American flag might be many things, but it was certainly not art. Yet Johns presented a carefully worked, elegantly executed painting".
Speaking about his love of art, Crichton said: "I just bought images that I enjoyed looking at, and in the end, this is the only significance that I attach to them."
The record for a privately bought Johns painting is a reported $80m for False Start and the auction record for a Johns painting is $17.4m.