From soup to napkins, if it’s a Warhol, it’s $$

A portrait of the late actress Farrah Fawcett by Andy Warhol
A portrait of the late actress Farrah Fawcett by Andy Warhol TNS

A minor Andy Warhol drawing with a glamorous link to actors Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O’Neal brought $15,000 at auction Friday, bringing to a close a contentious lawsuit between the University of Texas at Austin and O’Neal.

The sale of the so-called “Warhol napkin” – a framed cloth dinner napkin – came about when the university and the “Love Story” star came to terms earlier this year after O’Neal won a jury verdict awarding him a valuable Warhol portrait of Fawcett and half-ownership of the napkin.

The late actress, who died in 2009, had given all her artwork to the University of Texas at Austin, where she had studied before moving to Hollywood. The two sides agreed to put the napkin up for auction and to split the proceeds.

The university spent more than $1 million in legal fees to secure the Fawcett portrait, which was conservatively estimated at $12 million during the trial. O’Neal countersued over the napkin, which was in the university’s possession.

The 24-inch-by-24-inch framed ink drawing on a dinner napkin includes Warhol’s signature, both Fawcett’s and O’Neal’s names and a series of split hearts, the words “Houston, Texas,” and a phone number, presumably Warhol’s New York number. The late artist spontaneously drew on the napkin as he looked at the “it couple” at a Houston dinner in 1980.

“This is a very rare, one-of-a-kind signed Andy Warhol piece,” said the auctioneer of Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills, Calif., as he started the bidding of the item during the “Icons and Idols” auction.

The original auction estimate for the napkin was $6,000 to $8,000. But the auction house increased that to $10,000 as the bidding began. The $15,000 winning bid, which includes a $3,000 buyer’s premium to the auction house, was still a relatively small amount. Warhol paintings have recently spiked at auction for millions of dollars.

Modern art expert Nadine Granoff of Washington laughed when told of the auction price for the napkin. “Andy would be so happy,” she said. “He’d be jumping up and down. It’s just a napkin.”

“It’s this combination of high and low that makes him fascinating,” she added.

The napkin, she said, is equivalent to an autograph.

“I don’t think of it as art,” Granoff said. “It may have its artistic merit,” but she said the sale price “is just insane.”

Darren Julien, the president and CEO of Julien’s Auctions, told McClatchy before the auction that he thought the Warhol napkin could bring tens of thousands of dollars.

But after the auction he was upbeat, praising the outcome, as well as the sale by an anonymous owner of a bronze nude female sculpture by Fawcett herself that also sold for $12,000.

“Just like the state of Texas, Farrah Fawcett was bigger than life in her career and in the eyes of her millions of fans,” said Julien. “She remains an icon and is sorely missed.”

The winning bidders are anonymous.