A selection of Andy Warhol’s earliest paintings that have been kept in his family for more than 70 years will hit the auction block later this year, according to a Warhol nephew, artist James Warhola.
The 10 paintings were created by Warhol (1928–87) when he attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “They really do show my uncle’s earlier years of discovery of how to create art, and his aspiration to be an artist,” Warhola tells Penta.
Warhol (born Andrew Warhola Jr. ) left Pittsburgh for New York in 1949 and worked as a commercial artist for nearly a decade. He rose to international fame as a leading figure in the visual art movement known as Pop art in the 1960s with his iconic paintings of everyday objects, such as Campbell’s soup cans
and Brillo boxes, in addition to bold and vibrant portraits of celebrities.
In May, Warhol’s 1964 portrait of actress Marilyn Monroe sold for US$195 million at a Christie’s auction in New York, making it the most expensive American artwork sold at auction and the second-most expensive auctioned piece of art, trailing only Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” which sold for $450 million in 2017 at Christie’s.
“It’s hard to believe the portrait of Marilyn Monroe, painted in his studio where I often visited, became the most paid-for American painting,” Warhola says. “With the imagination my uncle captured, it made our decision to move on with selling our family collection much easier.”
Warhola and his six siblings have been planning to sell the group of 10 paintings since their parents died several years ago. After Warhol left Pittsburgh, the paintings were taken care of by their father Paul, the oldest of Warhol’s brothers.
“My father had loaned the paintings to museums, so the public was able to see them,” he says.
The paintings were included in a recently concluded international traveling exhibition, “Andy Warhol: Lifetimes,” with stops at the Tate Modern in London, the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, the Art Gallery of Toronto and the Aspen Art Museum.
Warhola says he is currently in talks with major auction houses to sell two of the paintings this November, with plans to sell two-to-three paintings during the spring and fall seasons next year.
“It is not easy to value his works from this period, we’ll see where the market falls,” Warhola says.
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The first two works to appear on the market will be “Nosepicker 1” and “Living Room.”
Warhol once entered “Nosepicker 1,” a self-portrait, in a local art show, but it was rejected by two of the three judges because they thought it was offensive, according to Warhola.
“The early portraits of him picking his nose has a humorous title, it started up a lot of controversy when it was shown,” Warhola says. “In a way it showed my uncle’s strive for attention: He’s a little bit shy, he let his artwork speak for him.”
“Living Room” was a rendition of the living room of the family’s home in Pittsburgh, which is now in the stewardship of Warhola. “It’s a very interesting peek into his private life when he was going to college,” he says.