Warhol portrait of Elvis sells for $82 million

Emma Woollacott
Auctioning two Warhol paintings
Auctioning two Warhol paintings

An Andy Warhol painting of a gun-toting Elvis Presley has sold for $81.9 million at auction.

The tryptich - a painting, often of a religious subject, divided into three sections - was part of a record-breaking sale that raised $852.9 million in total.

Triple Elvis, executed in ink and silver paint in 1963, was the top seller at the auction. It shows the singer dressed as a cowboy and shooting from the hip. It's one of 22 images of Elvis produced by Warhol and has been owned by German casino company WestSpiel since the 1970s.

All in all, the auction set 11 new world records for prices achieved. Twenty-two of the 80 works sold for more than $10 million, and nine fetched over $20 million. Warhol's Four Marlons from 1966, inspired by a still from Brando's 1953 movie The Wild One, sold for $69.9 million.

"This was a sale of extraordinary quality and range, with every major artist represented by at least one masterwork," says Brett Gorvy, chairman and international head of post-war and contemporary art at auctioneer Christies.

"The landmark sale result achieved tonight is a reflection of both growing global enthusiasm and demand in this category and a virtuous cycle of confidence in the art market that brings a fresh supply of exciting, high-quality works into the market with each new season."

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Andy Warhol Art Featured at Tate Liverpool
Andy Warhol Art Featured at Tate Liverpool

The global art market hit £39.7 billion last year, according to The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF), 8% higher than the year before and close to its all-time high. This was mostly because works on sale tended to be particularly high-priced, rather than because more art was sold.

And post-war and contemporary art, such as the pieces in the Christies sale, accounted for almost half the value of the market, and included the highest-priced works sold during the year.

But is art a good investment?

Researchers at Stanford University last year concluded that the returns of fine art have been significantly overestimated in the past. In fact, they say, investors can expect around 6.5% a year.

"When we compared the investment returns and risk of all the styles of art to a portfolio of pure stocks, we found that art investments would not substantially improve the risk/return profile of a portfolio diversified among traditional asset classes, such as stocks and bonds," they say.

"In short, buy paintings if you like looking at them. You can hope that your children will sell one or more of them later for a gain - but paintings are primarily aesthetic investments, not financial ones."

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