NEW YORK (Reuters) - An iconic portrait of Elvis Presley by pop artist Andy Warhol is poised to fetch as much as $50 million when it hits the auction block in May, Sotheby's said on Thursday.
The life-size painting, "Double Elvis (Ferus Type)" from 1963, epitomizes Warhol's obsessions with fame, stardom and the public image, according to Sotheby's.
Estimated to sell for $30 million to $50 million, it will be included in the auction house's May 9 sale of post-war and contemporary art.
"The silver background of 'Double Elvis (Ferus Type)', along with the subtle variations in tone give the serial imagery a sense of rhythmic variation that recalls the artist's masterpiece, '200 One Dollar Bills' completed the previous year," Sotheby's said in a statement.
That work soared to nearly $44 million or four times its estimate in 2009, when the art market was reeling from the financial crisis that struck in 2008. It was the highlight of the season, and achieved the highest price of any work at the fall auctions.
In the "Double Elvis" work, Presley is dressed as a cowboy, shooting a gun. Sotheby's described him in the work "a Hollywood icon of the sixties rather than the rebellious singer who shook the world of music in the sixties."
The double in the title refers to a shadowy image of Presley in the same pose that appears next to him in the work.
Of 22 works in Warhol's Elvis series which were first exhibited at Los Angeles' Ferus gallery, nine are in museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art.
At the Los Angeles exhibit, Warhol stipulated that "the paintings were to be displayed as a 'continuous surround,' encircling the gallery like flickering pictures reminiscent of early film," Sotheby's said.
The last double Elvis work to come up for auction was in 1995. Prices for Warhols have soared dramatically since then, with works featuring pop culture icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor fetching top prices.
But it was a work from Warhol's "Death and Disaster" series that set the artist's record, which still stands. "Green Car Crash (Green Car Burning)," also from 1963, more than doubled its estimate and sold for $71.7 million in 2007, at the height of the art market boom.
"Double Elvis" will be exhibited in Los Angeles, Hong Kong and London prior to the May sale.
Editing by Chris Michaud; editing by Patricia Reaney