‘Andy Warhol by Hand’ Puts the Icon’s Pre-Pop Drawings On the Block

The sale offers a rare glimpse into the world of Andy Warhol before he became the Pope of Pop.

A simple colored sketch of a basket of flowers
Andy Warhol, Flower Basket, circa 1956; Estimate: $30,000-40,000. Courtesy Artnet Auctions

Andy Warhol didn’t say “In the future everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes,” though that oft-repeated and much-misattributed quip—which may have come from Moderna Museet director Pontus Hultén or photographer Nat Finkelstein or artist Billy Al Bengston or perhaps even French novelist Alphonse Daudet—has certainly turned out to be prophetic thanks to social media. And while art critic and Warhol biographer Blake Gopnik’s dissection of the misattribution is fascinating, the reason everyone keeps on associating the concept of fifteen minutes of fame with the Pop Art pioneer is obvious. He was a personality when that was something new and exciting—it’s easy to forget that it was once less common to be famous for being famous.

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Let’s assume Warhol’s credibility as an artist is not in question. Whether you agree or disagree with the L.A. art critic who responded to Campbell’s Soup Cans showing at Ferus Gallery in July of 1962 by calling Warhol “either a soft-headed fool or a hardheaded charlatan,” there’s no denying his cultural and aesthetic impact. Big Campbell’s Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable) had already been in Time magazine two months earlier. The Marilyns and Coke Bottles and Elvises would soon follow.

A line drawing of a smiling woman with a butterfly on her head
Andy Warhol, Butterfly Lady (Self-Portrait), 1953; Estimate: $70,000-100,000. Courtesy Artnet Auctions

Those of us not as steeped in Warholia as Gopnik can be forgiven for never wondering just what the artist was up to in the decade before The Factory became the Factory and screenprinting became his signature. For those looking for a tl;dr version of his pre-Pop life, he was working in commercial illustration and advertising, designing shoes for Israel Miller, traveling and studying art, drawing his many friends and making scores of whimsical little sketches. Several of these studies and doodles are up for sale with estimates starting around $5,000 in the Andy Warhol by Hand: The 1950s auction on Artnet, which is live through noon on June 20.

Warhol was incredibly prolific—the Andy Warhol Foundation estimates that he produced over 9,000 paintings and sculptures and nearly 12,000 drawings—so it’s hardly unusual to see his work for sale. The Mugrabi clan owns nearly a thousand Warhols and philanthropist and mega-collector Jordan D. Schnitzer has many hundreds. When his work sells, it can sell for a lot. Shot Sage Blue Marilyn sold at Christie’s for $195 million to gallerist Larry Gagosian, becoming the most expensive 20th-century painting. But because there are just so many Warhols out there, particularly prints from the ‘60s and ‘70s, it’s often possible to snag a Marylin or a Mao for just a few thousand bucks.

A line drawing of a man and woman dancing
Andy Warhol, Dancing Couple, circa 1956; Estimate: $10,000-15,000. Courtesy Artnet Auctions

The lots in the Andy Warhol by Hand sale offer something a lot more interesting than the endlessly repeating parade of Technicolor icons: a rare glimpse into the world of the relatively unknown Andy Warhol who would eventually become THE Andy Warhol™. The artist was, according to Artnet Auctions’ co-head of Post-War and Contemporary Art Johannes Vogt, “drawing incessantly” in the 1950s while clawing his way toward a foothold in the fine art world, and looking for links between the works in the sale and the works for which he’s globally known is a diverting exercise. Among the drawings on the block are several cartoonish portraits, simple shoe illustrations, flower sketches and some study drawings for some of the artist’s self-published books. Warhol fans take note—many have yet to attract an opening bid.

‘Andy Warhol by Hand’ Puts the Icon’s Pre-Pop Drawings On the Block