Jewellery magnate Graff pays £6.7m for Warhol portrait of Elizabeth Taylor

Andy Warhol once mused that he would like to be reincarnated as a "great big ring" on Elizabeth Taylor's finger. So it was appropriate that the British millionaire who paid $12.6m (£6.7 million) for one of 13 Warhol portraits of the British screen siren should be a jewellery magnate.

Laurence Graff, the 65-year-old son of Jewish emigrés to east London, and who left school aged 13 to found one of the world's most exclusive diamond brands, fought off five rival bidders to buy the sultry 40sq in image of Taylor at the Sotheby's sale in New York on Tuesday night. It was the top lot in a collection of 73 works, 60 of which sold for a total of $68m.

Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's head of contemporary art, said the fierce competition for the painting, which had been won by Mr Graff with a telephone bid, had proved demand for post-war art remains strong.

Mr Meyer said: "Our estimate of $9m to $12m was completely justified in the market."

Warhol's rendition of Taylor against a vibrant red background, which he painted in 1963 and which is said to be "the outstanding example" of the series, is the latest addition to Mr Graff's burgeoning collection of modern art. Mr Graff, whose estimated £750m fortune has earned him the sobriquet "Lord of the Rings", also owns works by Warhol, Francis Bacon and the American avant-garde artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. He was recently named among the world's top 10 highest-spending collectors.

Liz, was painted by Warhol at the height of Taylor's fame as the on-screen star of the Hollywood epic, Cleopatra, and the off-screen star in a series of broken marriages which culminated in her affair with Richard Burton.

The series of paintings was executed shortly after Warhol's collection of iconic images of another Hollywood femme fatale, Marilyn Monroe.

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