NEW YORK — Jasper Johns' iconic painting of the American flag, in the collection of the late best-selling author Michael Crichton, could set a new auction record for the artist at a sale Tuesday evening at Christie's.
"Flag" has a pre-sale estimate of $10 million to $15 million, but art dealer Richard Feigen said he believes "it'll go through the roof," fetching upward of $30 million.
The seminal work by the living American artist has never before been on the public market. Johns' previous auction record was $18 million for "Figure 4," in 2007.
"There's a tremendous amount of liquidity right now and a lot of it is looking for art. I expect the prices to go ballistic tonight," said Feigen, whose galleries in New York and Chicago specialize in 19th and 20th century artworks and Old Masters.
"Flag" is the crown jewel of Crichton's collection.
The popular writer of such blockbuster thrillers as "Jurassic Park," "The Andromeda Strain" and the TV series "ER" died in 2008. He was a passionate art collector, leaving behind a trove of works by some of pop art's best known names, including Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Jeff Koons and Pablo Picasso, among others.
His family is selling 31 works on Tuesday and another 117 on Wednesday as part of Christie's postwar and contemporary art sale.
Christie's catalog called "Flag" "one of the greatest icons of modern art alongside Picasso's 'Guernica' and Andy Warhol's 'Marilyn.'"
A 1960 encaustic and paper collage rendition of the Stars and Stripes, Crichton bought it from Johns in 1973 and hung it in his Beverly Hills bedroom. It has been exhibited only once, for a pop art survey at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1992-1993.
Crichton generously lent works from his collection for exhibitions but was possessive about "Flag" because of his close friendship with Johns, said Brett Gorvy, deputy chairman of Christie's Americas.
Johns asked Crichton to write the catalog for his 1977 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Gorvy predicted that "Flag" would "go substantially higher" than its pre-sale estimate, given that the work "is so superb and rare ... and coming from a famous fella and also from someone who understood the artist."
Last week, "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust," a 1932 Picasso painting of his mistress, set a world record for any work of art at auction when it sold for $106.5 million at Christie's New York.
Other highlights in the Crichton collection include Oldenburg's 1970 "Three Way Plug Soft Sculpture," estimated at $250,000 to $350,000; Lichtenstein's "Girl in Water," estimated at $800,000 to $1.2 million; and Robert Rauschenberg's "Studio Painting," estimated at $6 million to $9 million.