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Court to decide future of Andy Warhol portrait of Farrah Fawcett

A portrait of the late actress Farrah Fawcett, painted by art legend Andy Warhol, has an uncertain fate. Fawcett's will decrees that all of her artwork is to be given to the University of Texas at Austin. However, Ryan O'Neal, her partner for 30 years, claims that Warhol gave the painting to him as a gift. The dispute has resulted in a court proceeding which will ultimately decide where the painting should end up.

The portrait is based on a photo that Warhol took of Fawcett in 1980. She is unsmiling in the painting, which is uncolored except for her red lips and green eyes. Some of Warhol's work has been sold for millions of dollars at auction, and estimates for the value of the Fawcett piece range between $600,000 and $10 million. O'Neal's lawyer's claim that he does not intend to sell it, however. According to the lawyers, the portrait is an heirloom and a priceless memento of the couple's life together.

Lawyers for UT Austin are more interested in legal documents such as wills and trusts, however. According to Ms. Fawcett's living trust, the university is to be the beneficiary of any artwork that she owned or created.

The dispute began when O'Neal took the portrait from Fawcett's condo after her death in 2009. He allegedly moved it there to prevent it from becoming damaged. When the university sued O'Neal for the painting, O'Neal countersued in the hopes that the university would also return a cloth napkin that Warhol drew on and gave to him.

The trial is expected to begin within the next couple of weeks, with O'Neal and television star Jaclyn Smith possibly taking the stand. While Fawcett's estate plan seems clear about how to handle her artwork, it's unclear whether or not the actress was the rightful owner. O'Neal's attorneys will have to work to convince the jury that Warhol actually intended O'Neal to be the owner of the piece if they're going to have any chance of disputing the Fawcett's will.

Source:  denverpost.com, "Trial to decide fate of Warhol portrait of Fawcett" Anthony McCartney, Nov. 18, 2013

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