For three decades, the silk screens from the 1980 Ten Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century series were believed to be hanging from the walls of a Los Angeles movie editing company. Somewhere during that time, these Andy Warhol Jewish icons were stolen and replaced with convincing fakes. The owners, a family owning the studio, are still in a complete state of shock after the news as the Los Angeles Police Department set off an investigation to find the 9 prints valued at $350,000 in total. Six of these works belong to the Jews collection and are worth $150,000, while three come from a pricier 1983 series Endangered Species, featuring Siberian Tiger, Bald Eagle, and a Bighorn Ram, estimated at $200,000.
A member of the family in possession of Andy Warhol’s portraits of influential Jews took the artworks to a framing shop, after noticing some of the art was sagging and needed to be reframed. It was then, in July 2015, that they found out that the prints were fake - they didn’t have signatures or edition numbers, and the lines of the artwork were fuzzy. After the examination of other artworks, the owners had established that nine other pieces of two separate collections were also replaced with copies. The LAPD confirmed they are now working on the case, having posted an image of one missing screen print, the Portrait of George Gershwin, on their art theft detail page. The detectives believe the thief took large color photographs of the originals and probably used a special tool to remove the delicate prints off the walls and out of the frames. The original silk-screens were probably stolen in the last three years, based on the current condition of the fakes.
Since these Warhol Jewish icons were stolen at an unknown time, the police believe that at least one of them has been sold by now. Tracking down Andy Warhol’s artworks on sale at auction houses, the detectives have found that a Bald Eagle print similar to the one missing was sold through Bonhams in October 2011, while a portrait of Sigmund Freud belonging to the Ten Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century series went for sale at Sotheby’s Art Contemporain in Paris in June 2015. Furthermore, a full set of 10 prints from the collection sold at Sotheby’s auction held in New York in November 2012. The investigators have approached the auction houses in question for more information on these sales.
Apart from the above mentioned George Gershwin and Sigmund Freud, Andy Warhol dedicated eight more artworks to the Jewish people he thought influential: Golda Meir, The Marx Brothers, Albert Einstein, Franz Kafka, Louis Brandeis, Gertrude Stein, Sarah Bernhardt and Martin Buber. First they came as silk-screens on paper, but due to their popularity, the iconic pop artists did another edition on canvas.
Art theft can be a very lucrative business, especially if we’re talking about big artists - because prints like these can fetch incredible amounts of money on the black market. The theft of the Jew portraits was not the first time that Andy Warhol’s artworks were a prey of thieves. In 2009, a $10 million worth of portraits from the 1977 The Athletes series were stolen from Richard Weisman’s home. These included 11 large silk-screens of sportsmen like Muhammad Ali and Pele, all commissioned by the collector. In August 2015, two works have disappeared from the Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art in Slovakia, his country of origin, after being loaned to Arts Group from Bratislava. The pieces, a Campbell's Soup Can painting worth an estimated €35,000 and the Marilyn Monroe print valued at €500, were given to the company for educational purposes.
Will the stolen Warhol Jewish icons be recovered in September? Share your opinion on our Facebook page!
Sign up for My Widewalls for more updates on the news story!
All images used for illustrative purposes only.