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Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Peek Inside Christie's Elizabeth Taylor Exhibition

Christie's recreates Elizabeth Taylor's jewelry room for the exhibition.

At noon Saturday, the general public will have its first opportunity to view the entire collection of Elizabeth Taylor that will go on auction at Christie’s New York headquarters beginning December 13.

Three outfits worn by Taylor during her Cleopatra days.

Parts of the collection of jewelry, couture, memorabilia, household items and art have been on a world tour. New York is the last stop on the tour prior to the four-day sale. In addition to the live auction, 950 pieces from the collection of more than 2,000 items will be made available in a separate online auction that begins today and will conclude on the same dates as the live auction. All lots will be offered without reserve.

Mike Todd diamond tiara

“All of the items on the online auction have an opening bid of $50,” said Erin McAndrew, head of Communications, Christie’s Americas, who led me through the exhibition Friday. "This allows everyone to participate.”

La Pérégrina -- The Legendary Pearl.

The exhibition ends December 12. This will be the last opportunity to see one of the greatest private collections of jewelry, memorabilia and fashion ever amassed. Tickets are still available and can only be purchased online on Christie’s website.

Cartier ruby and diamond suite and Van Cleef & Arpels ruby and diamond ring. The Cartier pieces were given to Taylor by Mike Todd and the 8.24-carat ruby and diamond ring was a gift from Richard Burton.

For those who have purchased their tickets to the exhibition at Christies Rockefeller Plaza headquarters here’s what to expect.

Wedding dress for first marriage to Richard Burton.

First of all, it’s the first time that Christie’s entire sale and exhibition space will be dedicated to an auction from a private collection. It’s a museum-quality exhibition.

Night of the Iguana brooch by Jean Schlumberger, Tiffany & Co.

The first portion of the space is a hallway dedicated to Taylor’s relationship with Andy Warhol. It includes a lithograph portrait of Taylor and a sketch of lips by the artist. Both were gifts for Taylor. Between them is a thank you note from Taylor to Warhol.

A collection of colorful jewelry pieces organized by Christie's.

On the other side of the passageway there’s a recreation of Taylor’s jewelry closet in her dressing room. Yes, she had a separate room for her jewelry. The original boxes for each piece of jewelry are situated on individual shelves. “Notice all the red boxes,” McAndrew said. “She loved Cartier.” In addition, several boxes were marked with the names of those who gave her the pieces.

A collection of Taylor's watches in a single display case.

Right before entering the main exhibition rooms there are three dresses that were worn by Taylor, two flank each end of the display and one is lifted from the ground with the mannequin’s arms extended. It’s quite a dramatic scene and leads to the first room which is filled with several of Taylor’s signature jewelry pieces.

The Taj Mahal Diamond, Circa 1627 -- 28 with gold and ruby chain by Cartier.

It includes La Peregrina, the pearl, ruby and diamond necklace centered with a 203-grain pear-shaped pearl discovered in the 16th Century as its centerpiece. Taylor and Al Durante of Cartier designed the piece. A collection of diamond and ruby jewelry, including necklace, earrings and bracelet set that was a gift from director Mike Todd, Taylor’s third husband. In the same case is an 8.24-carat ruby and diamond ring that was a Christmas gift from Richard Burton, Taylor’s fifth husband who she married twice. And there are signature sapphires and emerald pieces, many gifts from her husbands that were worn on special occasions, such as the diamond tiara, which she wore to the 1957 Academy Awards, where Todd’s film, Around the World in 80 Days, won for Best Picture.

A room in the exhibition is dedicated to Taylor's acting career, personal life and her humanitarian causes.

From there it became a blur of sparkle as jewelry dominates much of the exhibition. Bulgari, Boucheron, Cartier, JAR, Schlumberger, Tiffany and Van Cleef & Arpels and many more internationally renowned jewelry brands are well represented. It was clear from her collection that Taylor loved colored gems as much as she loved colorless diamonds.

Bob Dylan publicity poster with poem to Taylor.

There’s the 33-carat diamond Asscher Cut diamond ring that was a gift from Richard Burton. It was the ring she wore nearly everyday. The Vacheron Constantin watch and monkey necklace that were gifts from Michael Jackson are included in the exhibit. Then there’s the magnificent Taj Mahal diamond, which comes with a love story nearly four centuries old.

Taylor's handbags are exhibited in a replica of her accessories closet.

Of course, there’s more than jewelry. There’s memorabilia, such as bound copies of movie scripts, a collection of director’s chairs she used during her films and a book she wrote as a child, titled Nibbles and Me. One of the more unusual items is a publicity poster of Bob Dylan, inscribed what could only be described as a love poem to Taylor.

Couture outfits spanning more than 50 years from some of the world's most renowned fashion designers in a dedicated space.

There are her poster collections, furnishings, decorative accessories and a recreation of her accessories closet (yes, she had one of those, too) with shelves filled with designer handbags.

Then there are the outfits—from every major designer spanning more than 50 years of fashion. They are scattered at different areas of the two-story exhibition space but the bulk of her major couture items are located in a dedicated room on the second floor, exhibited in chronological order.

Taylor also had an impressive collection of important old master’s, impressionist and modern art paintings that includes works by Van Gogh, Piassaro and Rembrandt. These paintings while available to view at the exhibition will be sold at a separate auction at Christie’s London in February.

Near the end of the exhibition there’s a room dedicated to Taylor’s life as an actress, an icon and as a humanitarian. It should be noted that a portion of all proceeds from the auction, catalog and related sales will go toward the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.

By any measure Elizabeth Taylor lived an extraordinary life and the exhibit is a statement on how she lived. The gifts she received and items she bought for herself were basic and extravagant. She was all American and a contemporary in the way she purchased. She loved things that were big and bold and she never seemed to have enough. However, she also had European and international taste in fashion and design. Her collection shows that when it came to style she was extremely knowledgeable, passionate and compulsive. This collection represents a life well spent. Christie’s presentation of the exhibit makes it seem as if her life’s work was complete.

It’s almost a shame that these items will soon be separated.