- The painting of the former 'Golden Girl' was called sexist and misogynistic when first unveiled in the early 90s
- Christie's had hoped the painting might sell for as much as $2.5m in auction
- Kimmel outed as buyer after he gave it to his friend, comedian Jeff Ross, who posted a 'thank you' shout out on Twitter
Published: 01:43 BST, 25 May 2013 | Updated: 05:00 BST, 25 May 2013>
Jimmy Kimmel has denied spending nearly $2million on a topless painting of the late Golden Girls actress Bea Arthur after his comedian friend posted a picture of himself holding the portrait and thanking Kimmel for the 'generous' gift.
'Biggest surprise of my life. Thank you @jimmykimmel - the most generous guy in the world! #BeaArthur,' comedian Jeffrey Ross wrote as the picture caption.
While he did not formally confirm that he was the one to pay the pricey sum for the picture, Kimmel's response comes as a certain declaration- one that he ultimately overturned.
Jeffrey Ross posed for a picture with 'the biggest surprise of his life', the nude portrait of Bea Arthur that he said Jimmy Kimmel bought for him as a surprise
Confirmation? Jimmy Kimmel seemingly declared that he had sent the painting to his friend and fellow comedian
Denial: Kimmel claimed the whole thing was a joke
'Bea is watching over all of us, but especially you,' Kimmel wrote.
Later Friday night, Kimmel came back clearing things up by saying that he had nothing to do it with.
'Contrary to "news" reports, I didn't buy the Bea Arthur painting - not even for @realjeffreyross - but I did buy the Mona Lisa Lampanelli,' he wrote to his nearly 2,600,000 followers.
Back in the day: Jimmy Kimmel and Jeffrey Ross have been friends for many years, seen here in 2000
While the entire situation seemed like one of Kimmel's made-for-late-night pranks from the beginning, the history between Ross and Arthur added an element of validity to the story.
Ross has worked with Comedy Central for years, and one of his duties was hosting the channel's annual roasts of big stars.
In 1999, he was the emcee at the roast honoring Jerry Stiller, and Stiller's good friend Bea Arthur was in the audience.
At one point during the ceremony, Ross made a lewd joke at Arthur's expense, and she took it in stride, glaring back at him for an extra laugh.
'She gave me this hilarious stare, this stink-eye that made — let’s face it — an OK joke into a great moment, a great Roast moment,' Ross said in an interview for the TV Howl blog.
'And then over time, I felt like she put me on the map because everywhere I went people were quoting this joke to me. I’m hearing it all the time, it’s quoted in newspapers at the end of the year, it was part of all these roundups of the greatest lines of the year, and I’m realizing that I’m sort of getting a boost from this ridiculous joke that’s not even that funny.'
He said that as his name became more and more associated with Arthur's, he felt indebted to her and attended one of her one-woman shows. At the end of the performance, he waited in line to say hello to her and she immediately recognized him.
'She just stuck a finger right in my face and said, "You nailed me, you prick!" And we both laughed and she gave me a hug. It was really cool knowing what a fun broad she was,' he said.
Big moment: Ross (left) made a joke at Arthur's expense at a Comedy Central roast in 1999, and she was a good sport about it, playing along with it for the cameras (right)
Controversial artist John Currin painted ‘Bea Arthur Naked’ in 1991, and it features the elderly star wearing a blank expression and sagging breasts.
Arthur never actually sat for Currin, who derived the work from a photograph of the actress with her clothes on.
The oil on canvas painting was purchased by an anonymous phone bidder for $1.9 million.
There had been expectations the painting might fetch as much as $2.5 million in the post-war and contemporary art sale at Christie's.
After the painting was unveiled in the early 90s, it was described as sexist and misogynist by critics.
Others have since argued it is actually a feminist statement about confidence and age. A Christie’s spokesman called the painting 'visually lasting.'
Sexist or empowering? John Curran's 1991 painting 'Bea Arthur Naked' has fetched $1.9m at auction
During her career, Arthur won acclaim for her comic timing and deadpan delivery in roles such as Maude, right
Currin’s work is now widely acclaimed and hangs in museums such as the Whitney. He once said he considered Arthur 'more of a maternal figure than a feminist icon. I watched "Maude" all the time when I was a kid. She's a genius. She's funny because she's so much smarter than everyone around her.'
Arthur, famous for her Emmy-winning roles in the 1970s and '80s television series ‘Maude’ and ‘The Golden Girls,’ died of cancer in 2009 at age 86.
Born Beatrice Frankel in New York on May 13, 1922, Arthur began performing in college and appeared in Broadway and off-Broadway roles, winning a Tony Award opposite Angela Lansbury in Mame.
Arthur followed with Golden Girls, an unlikely hit from 1985 to 1992 that featured four female retirees living together.
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