Gunter Sachs

Art and design from the collection of 20th-century golden boy Gunter Sachs will be auctioned in London this month.

Handsome, charismatic Sachs (1932-2011)—famed in his early days mostly as a wealthy international playboy and later as a photographer—passionately built a formidable collection over 50 years, often being the first to buy many of today's most coveted artists. Among some 300 works at Sotheby's in London May 22 and 23 will be paintings by such artists as Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana, Andy Warhol, Roy Liechtenstein, Tom Wesselmann and Mel Ramos, mixed with 20th-century furniture by Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann and Diego Giacometti.

Born into the German industrialist family of von Opel, he bought his first artwork when he was 16 years old, a print by Eugène Delacroix. At the age of 26, Sachs moved to Paris, then capital of the art world. Buying an apartment on the Avenue Foch, he first decorated it with top artists like Pablo Picasso before moving on quickly to Parisian artists little known in international circles—among them Klein, Arman and Jean Tinguely. From those days emerged a pattern of friendship with and financial support of artists that was to characterize Sachs's collecting style. "He wasn't interested in buying what was fashionable," says Sotheby's contemporary-art specialist Oliver Barker.

Pop Art was to become a major love. Sachs first met Warhol when sitting in a bar with his second wife, Brigitte Bardot, during the Cannes Film Festival in 1967. They became close friends and, in 1972, Sachs organized Warhol's first exhibition in Germany at his gallery in Hamburg. Nothing was sold; to prevent embarrassing Warhol, Sachs secretly bought a third of the exhibition himself. Sachs was later to say that it was one of the best deals he ever did.

A top lot of the Sachs sale will be a superb, golden 1974 portrait by Warhol of Ms. Bardot, who Sachs famously courted by dropping hundreds of red roses from a helicopter onto her villa in the French Riviera. "It symbolizes great fame and great beauty," Mr. Barker says. The portrait (estimate: £3 million-£4 million) is based on a black-and-white photograph taken by Richard Avedon in 1959. The photograph was produced in an edition of 35, and one of the series is in the sale, valued at £40,000-£60,000. Sachs commissioned the Warhol work as a companion piece for his own portraits by Warhol. One showing Sachs with pink hair and in a blue shirt from 1972 is expected to fetch £400,000-£600,000.

Among the other Warhol items will be one of his signature "Flowers," from 1964-65, in orange, blue and pink (estimate: £3 million-£4 million); "Self-portrait (Fright Wig)" (1986), showing a pink-hued artist with a crazy hairdo (estimate: £2 million-£3 million); and "Mao" (1972), a complete set of 10 color prints based on the Chinese communist leader's official portrait (estimate: £300,000-£500,000).

Sachs lived surrounded by art. In St. Moritz, his penthouse in the tower of the Palace Hotel housed favorites from his Pop works such as Liechtenstein's "Composition" (1969), created especially for the apartment and incorporating various aspects of the artist's images, including his sunrise series (estimate: £600,000-£800,000); and French design icon "Moutons de Laine" (1968), a group of white sheep made from wool and wood created by Francois-Xavier Lalanne (estimate: £250,000-£350,000).

An anecdote in the Sotheby's catalog illustrates Sachs's importance for his artists. Mel Ramos, noted for his Californian pinups, recalls meeting Sachs at the opening of an exhibition of his works in Zurich in 1971. At it, Sachs purchased Ramos pictures, including "A.C. Annie," a typical Ramos nude pictured beside a giant sparkplug (estimate: £150,000-£200,000). It was one of the artist's first exhibitions in Europe and, he says, the purchase represented "the highlight of his career to date."

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