LONDON (Reuters) - Works from the art collection of bestselling U.S. author Michael Crichton will be sold by Christie's in New York in May, the auctioneer said on Friday.
The collection includes "key" works by Pablo Picasso, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein, and one painting by each artist will go on display at Christie's in London from February 6-12.
Although the auctioneer did not give an estimate of the value of the collection to be sold, the four exhibited works alone are expected to fetch around 20 million pounds ($32 million).
One of the highlights is "Flag" by Johns, dated 1960-66, which Christie's described as a "painstakingly beautiful rendition of the American flag" which has never been on the public market.
The auctioneer said Johns's flag paintings were among the first icons of pop art, ending the dominance of abstract expressionism practiced by the likes of Jackson Pollock.
Crichton acquired the work over 30 years ago directly from the artist's collection and it was last seen in public 18 years ago as part of a major pop art survey organized originally by the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
"Michael Crichton is famous as author of Jurassic Park and many other famous movies, and obviously books, and he was also the creator of ER," Brett Gorvy, deputy chairman of Christie's Americas told Reuters Television.
"What is not widely know was that he was one of the great scholars on the artist Jasper Johns, and had met ... Johns and had acquired from his own collection one of his great works, the Flag."
The auctioneer will be hoping that the combination of a Johns work, the fact that his flag paintings so rarely come to market and the association with Crichton will fuel the bidding at a time when auction records are tumbling again.
The auction record for a Johns is $17.4 million set in 2007 for his 1959 work "Figure 4," but another piece, "False Start," changed hands for a reported $80 million in a private sale, making it the most expensive known painting by a living artist.
Gorvy said the signs for the Crichton auction were good.
"At a time when there is great rarity in these objects coming to sale, when they do appear on the auction market ... ultimately the prices are way beyond any estimate we can put on any object," he said.
"So when you have something that is so critical to art history as the Jasper Johns Flag, but something that (has) ... never been seen in the market ... it has all the magic." Christie's rival Sotheby's achieved a new auction record in London this week when a Giacometti statue sold for $104.3 million, just beating the previous high of $104.2 million for a Picasso painting.
Crichton died unexpectedly of cancer aged 66 in November, 2008. He was a medical doctor turned novelist and filmmaker whose books sold more than 150 million copies worldwide.
Additional reporting by Mike Davidson, editing by Paul Casciato