Al Hirschfeld’s Pink Townhouse ‘Mural’ Turns Out to Be Wallpaper

Al Hirschfeld photographed by Jill Krementz on December 4th, 1971, playing the piano in his living room. The house features a large section of Hirschfeld-designed wallpaper. (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

Al Hirschfeld photographed by Jill Krementz on December 4th, 1971, playing the piano in his living room. The house features a large section of Hirschfeld-designed wallpaper. (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

Al Hirschfeld’s longtime dealer Margo Feiden has some news for potential buyers of the artist’s Upper East Side townhouse: that eight-foot original “mural” inside is actually just wallpaper.

Ms. Feiden’s revelation may come as a surprise to the Hirschfeld fans interested in purchasing the house and acquiring an original artwork.

In January the property, last listed by Sotheby’s for $8.75 million, entered contract, as the Observer reported at the time.

Ms. Feiden told the Observer that the wall is lovely, and indeed worth owning, but that the listing had misrepresented the artwork. “To call it an original is just plain wrong,” she said.

According to Ms. Feiden, the work (which is affixed to the wall) is no more than a “reproduction” of a series of original Hirschfeld drawings made during the 1950s that feature the likenesses of Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and the Marx Brothers, among others. The drawings were later collaged together and made into a composite image that comprises the paper, produced around 1955.

While the paper—which is no longer in production—enlarges Hirschfeld’s masterful line drawings to a larger-than-life scale, it never caught on with collectors.

“Its main draw was its failing, because you have to have an enormous amount of space and most people just don’t,” she said.

The discrepancy in the broker’s description of the wallpaper was first noticed by PageSix, which notes that the only original element is a three-dimensional flower added by the artist later to the portrait of Charlie Chaplin.

While Ms. Feiden was not able to provide a figure on the wallpaper’s value, she estimates that if it were in fact an original artwork, and “in a form that could move,” it would be worth $150,000-$200,000.

“He never worked on that scale,” she said. (The artist typically worked on drawings that measured 21-by-27 inches.)

Today, she says original Hirschfeld drawings fetch between $3,500 to roughly $35,000, and signed, limited edition lithographs sell for between $1,500-$10,000.

Another unique element in the townhouse is a series of Hirschfeld-designed tiles installed around the fireplace. The dealer explained that the tiles are also not original works, and that “from time to time” she is contacted by people who own other versions of the Hirschfeld tiles.