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Expert tells jury Warhol portrait of Fawcett at centre of dispute is worth $12 million

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - An Andy Warhol portrait of Farrah Fawcett currently held by actor Ryan O'Neal is worth an estimated $12 million, an appraiser told a jury Friday.

New York art appraiser Lee Drexler testified in a lawsuit by the University of Texas at Austin against the actor in which the school is seeking to gain possession of the Fawcett portrait for its art museum.

O'Neal contends the artwork was given to him as a gift by Warhol and did not belong to Fawcett when she died in 2009. The "Charlie's Angels" star left all her artwork to the university; her gift included another version of the Warhol portrait.

Drexler was the university's final witness in its principal case, which started with opening statements Nov. 25. Her estimate could be used by a jury to award damages if it finds that O'Neal improperly took the artwork after Fawcett, his longtime partner, died.

Drexler said because of Fawcett's fame and beauty, Warhol's portrait of her was extraordinary. She noted the artist's works remain hot sellers and said the average auction price for one of his pieces is $7.5 million.

"This is not average," Drexler said of the silkscreen portrait Warhol crafted from Polaroid pictures he shot of Fawcett. "This painting makes your eyes pop. It's magnificent. It's just a gorgeous painting."

O'Neal's attorney Todd Eagen questioned Drexler's appraisal. He noted the university had insured its version of the Warhol portrait for around $600,000, and the version hanging in O'Neal's home was appraised in 2009 for less than $1 million.

Jurors will now hear from witnesses called by O'Neal's attorney, which likely will return the actor to stand and might include an appearance by Fawcett's "Charlie's Angels" co-star Jaclyn Smith. The actor's first witness was Mela Murphy, a hairstylist and close friend of Fawcett who testified that the actress told her in 1994 that one of the Warhol portraits belonged to O'Neal.

Drexler testified as an expert witness and was paid approximately $36,000. She based her appraisal on reviewing photos of the Fawcett portrait and auction prices for other Warhol artwork.

O'Neal is countersuing the university to keep the Fawcett portrait and also obtain a tablecloth Warhol drew hearts on and addressed to the actors.

The university has said if it wins, it plans to display both Fawcett portraits in its Blanton Museum of Art. O'Neal told jurors Monday that if he wins, he intends to leave the portrait to the son he had with Fawcett, Redmond.

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Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP

The Canadian Press


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