In 1949, Andy Warhol submitted a gleefully irreverent self-portrait to a juried exhibition by the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh. The painting bears little resemblance to the silkscreen prints of consumer goods that made Warhol an icon of the Pop Art movement—but the artist’s signature cheek and humor are there. Originally titled The Broad Gave Me My Face, But I Can Pick My Own Nose, the painting depicts a young man with a finger shoved up his nostril.
The artwork was rejected from the exhibition, but according to the Andy Warhol Museum, it did attract “considerable attention” at a student show at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), where Warhol studied pictorial design. Now, reports Shirley McMarlin of the Tribune-Review, Warhol’s relatives are preparing to auction Nosepicker 1 (as the painting was later titled) and nine other paintings created during Warhol’s formative college years.
Warhol left the works behind when he moved from Pittsburgh to New York City, just weeks after his graduation. His eldest brother, Paul Warhola—the artist dropped the final “a” in his last name—kept the paintings. After Paul and his wife died, Paul’s seven children inherited the artworks, reports Angelica Villa of ARTnews.
One of the siblings, illustrator James Warhola, tells the Tribune-Review that he is now negotiating with several major auction houses that are interested in handling the sale.
“It’s not something we’ve wanted to do,” he explains, “but it’s the only way you divvy up an estate, and there’s a whole bunch of us who could use a few extra dollars.”
The collection includes “whimsical portraiture of children as well as more abstract, distorted imagery,” according to Eileen Kinsella of Artnet. But Nosepicker 1, which may be Warhol’s first self-portrait, “is the real prize,” Warhol expert Richard Polsky tells Artnet. It will head to auction first, along with Living Room, a 1948 watercolor inspired by the artist’s family home.
Warhol began his studies at Carnegie Tech in 1945, with plans to become a fine artist, according to the Warhola family website. He struggled through his first-year courses, and he had to take a summer drawing class so he could “refine his draftsmanship,” writes the Andy Warhol Museum. He spent those warm summer months working alongside Paul, who sold produce from a truck, stealing spare moments to sketch images of customers buying fruits and vegetables. These works were so well received by his professors that Warhol was awarded a small scholarship.
The artist went on to thrive at Carnegie Tech, joining the modern dance club and working as an editor for the student publication, Cano. It was during his college years that Warhol began experimenting with his blotted-line technique, which combines drawing with printmaking and became a fixture of Warhol’s commercial artworks of the 1940s and 1950s.
Throughout his career, Warhol harbored a fascination with self-portraiture. He cut images of himself from photobooth strips, rendered his own likeness in dramatic colors on silkscreen, and posed with a skull on his shoulder after an attempt was made on his life in 1968. According to James Warhola, the inspiration for Nosepicker may have come from the time he spent with his brother’s children in Pittsburgh.
“As my father told the story, the little kids were always picking their noses, and my uncle got very perturbed about it,” James Warhola tells the Tribune-Review. “When he’d see my father, he’d say, ‘Can’t they stop?”
But Warhol, adds his nephew, had a keen sense of humor. “In the world of art, you didn’t want to be offensive with your art,” he says, “but my uncle felt like being offensive could work.”