When a British tourist came back from Las Vegas with a $5 painting he'd bought at a garage sale and told everybody he was pretty sure a 10-year-old Andy Warhol had done it, people flipped out, but now Warhol's brother and a bevy of art experts say its a fake. Everybody wanted to believe so badly that this was real: Headlines stated unequivocally that the image of singer Rudy Vallee was a Warhol, which tourist Andy Fields brought from a drug addict who said his aunt used to babysit the pop-art icon. But now that it's going on display at the Royal Western Academy, folks are lining up to throw some cold water on the story.
There are certainly some inconsistencies in last month's reports of Fields' account that he lucked into the painting at a garage sale in 2010 but then realized it was a Warhol years later: Fields told The Telegraph's Hannah Furness that the vendor "told him his aunt used to care for Warhol when he was a child," though he can no longer find the guy. RWA's announcement of its display says "Mr. Fields discovered the sketch inside a framed drawing of William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy by Gertrude Stein – a Pittsburgh-born artist and writer who was painted by Warhol in later life." A Stanford University Stein expert, Wanda Corn, told the site Warholstars: "She NEVER made drawings or any other kind of visual art and the signature is not hers. Nor was she interested in popular films." But the RWA believes the other image is a real Warhol, and puts the value at $2 million. Fields, for his part, says he's not interested in selling.
Art Info rounded up the naysayers, and they're pretty convincing, starting with the artist's brother, Paul Warhola (who goes by his family's original name):
In an email, Warhol’s own brother Paul Warhola explains that the family had already told Fields that the work was not done by Warhol. "It had no characteristics of his drawing style whatsoever and the signature was vastly unlike his real signature. It doesn’t even come close to being like Warhol’s early work."
Other experts, including authors Patrick Smith and Thomas Kiedrowski, said the painting, which bears what appears to be Warhol's signature and is thought to be of 1930s singer Rudy Vallee, looks like a fake. Smith told Warholstars.org: "I have never seen any early drawing by Warhol that even remotely looks like the supposed 'Warhol' sketch of Vallee, nor have I ever seen an early authentic signature that even remotely appears like the one on the sketch." And while the RWA's promotional write-up says "The pencil portrait is drawn on a (now tattered) piece of paper and is full of the pop art motifs we have now come to recognise, including Warhol’s signature bright red lips, made using lipstick, and a typically pop art blocked background, coloured with green and orange felt-tip pen," despite the fact, as Warholstars points out, that felt-tip pens weren't invented in the 30s.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.