A contentious legal battle over possession of a famous Andy Warhol painting of actress Farrah Fawcett featured an expert witness appraiser to determine the value of the work. The University of Texas filed a lawsuit against Fawcett’s on-again off-again lover, actor Ryan O’Neal for possession of the painting which currently hangs in O’Neal’s Malibu home. Before her death in 2009, Fawcett gave her entire art collection to the university, her alma mater, but O’Neal claims that the Warhol work was his and therefore not part of the collection given to Texas. According to CNN coverage of the issue, O’Neal had been given the painting by Warhol, but had asked Fawcett to keep it for him, leaving it in her possession at the time of her death. O’Neal retrieved the painting shortly after her death, and now contends that it belonged to him and is not part of the collection that Fawcett left to UT.
As part of the lawsuit, the University of Texas called art appraiser Lee Drexler as an expert witness testifying to the value of the painting. Should a court agree that O’Neal improperly retained possession of the painting, the expert witness appraisal will be used to determine damages. Drexler, who received $36,000 in expert witness fees, testified that the painting was an above average Warhol work and valued at $12 million. The Associate Press reports that attorneys for Ryan O’Neal challenged Drexler’s appraisal by pointing out that a 2009 valuation placed the painting’s worth at less than $1 million, a fact supported by UT’s decision to insure a similar painting for only $600,000.
Whether or not the university’s expert witness appraisal is relevant will depend on who is in legal possession of the work, but should the court rule in favor of Texas, the disputed appraisal value will become critical to determine damages. O’Neal has not presented an expert witness to dispute Drexler’s appraisal, but will instead focus on proving he properly possessed the painting and does not owe damages to the university. Should the case go in UT’s favor, O’Neal will likely rely on the cross-examination challenge of Drexler’s expert appraisal that argued the value was closer to $1 million than $12 million.