Elizabeth Taylor auction featured at Christie's

The Elizabeth Taylor diamond owned by US actress The Elizabeth Taylor diamond owned by US actress Elizabeth Taylor, a gift from Richard Burton, on display during a preview of The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor at Christie's in New York. (Dec. 1, 2011) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Elizabeth Taylor is known as one of Hollywood's most enduring icons. A tour through her clothes, jewelry and memorabilia reveals a connoisseur of art and fashion.

Among the items to be auctioned at Christie's this month: the sunflower-yellow chiffon dress Taylor wore to her 1964 wedding to Richard Burton (today's estimated value: $40,000-$60,000); an Andy Warhol lithograph portrait of the actress, dedicated to her ($30,000-$50,000); place cards inscribed by President Ronald Reagan, Vice President George Bush and their wives, from the presidential box at the Eisenhower Theater production of "The Little Foxes," a play in which she appeared ($8,000-$12,000).

"Whether it's her jewelry or her fashion, you really can see the culture of America go through it -- all the different styles," said Heather Barnhart, the project director for Christie's Elizabeth Taylor collection. It will be on view for 10 days at the midtown auction house starting Saturday. Auctions begin Dec. 13. "She still has a huge resonance with people of all ages. She wasn't just a movie star, she really was a true icon."

Taylor, who died in March, burst onto the cultural landscape as a child star who signed a $100-a-week contract with MGM in 1943, when she was 11. She grew up in the public eye, dazzling millions of admirers with her celebrated film career, glamorous lifestyle, dramatic love affairs, violet eyes, outsize beauty and signature style.

The collection contains the 33.19-carat Elizabeth Taylor diamond, a gift from Burton now valued at $2.5 million to $3.5 million; many ornate caftans and capes; and the robes she wore in the title role of the movie "Cleopatra." The exhibition includes a display inspired by Taylor's own closet, complete with lavender carpeting and shelves of handbags arranged by color, as well a museum-quality art collection containing a Van Gogh painting valued at $8 million to $12 million. The Van Gogh is considered one of the priciest items in the collection, which is expected to ultimately sell for more than $50 million.

"It's really the collection of a connoisseur," Barnhart said. "The celebrity part is just the absolute icing on the cake."

Her wardrobe represents nearly every prominent designer of her lifetime, curators said, and ranges from 1960s Dior dresses to 1990s Versace jackets, including a beaded evening jacket decorated with images of Taylor. The clothes bear the strong stamp of a woman who chose them -- and paid for them -- herself, before the age of stylists and swag.

"There weren't designers wanting to dress you for one night. These are things she actually put her own money on," said Meredith Etherington-Smith, curator of Taylor's fashion collection. "This is the last half of the 20th century in clothes. Because she was one of the best-known women of the last half of the 20th century, to see her taste, how she led her life, and in what, is incredibly interesting."

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