British tourist Andy Fields made quite a stir in April when he claimed that he bought an early sketch by Andy Warhol from a Las Vegas drug addict for $5. The sketch, supposedly made by a 10-year-old Warhol, depicts American singer and actor Rudy Vallee with bright red lips against an abstracted background of green, orange, and yellow squares. Fields has stated that the unlikely piece of Warhol juvenalia is valued at $2.1 million. In July, it is even set to be shown at the Royal West of England Academy, whose director recently told the BBC that it represented "a seismic shift in the history of art," adding that "viewing this portrait allows us to see the beginnings of one of the greatest art movements."
It's a great story. Unfortunately, it is also too good to be true, according to those who know Warhol's work.
Gary Comenas, who runs the Web site Warholstars.org, started having doubts about the authenticity of Fields’s Warhol when it was first publicized last month. On his site, he has now gathered the opinions of a number of Warhol experts, including academics, authors, and the artist’s family and friends. Every judgment leads to the conclusion that the presumed juvenilia is fake, and a pretty crude one at that.
Patrick Smith, scholar and author of two books on Warhol ("Andy Warhol's Art and Film" and "Warhol: Converations About the Artist"), says that the drawing would be unprecedented in the context of the artist’s archive. “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,” he says. Thomas Kiedrowski, author of “Andy Warhol’s New York City; Four Walks, Uptown to Downtown,” agrees: “Despite a number of well-made Warhol forgeries that have circulated over the last few years, the Fields find is an easy one to spot, his story and the Warhol signature is far from authentic.”
In an email, the late artist's brother Paul Warhola explains that the family had actually 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,” he explains.
Some details of Fields’s story also undermine his credibility. For instance, the British tourist claims that Warhol had given the drawing to his childhood nurse; the family doesn’t recognize the alleged nurse’s name. Fields also says that he found the Warhol sketch amidst a pile of Gertrude Stein drawings, which should be another red flag: Stanford University professor Wanda Corn tells Comenas that Stein “never made drawings or any other kind of visual art, and the signature is not hers.”