12 Things You Might Not Know About Andy Warhol

Susan Greenwood, Liaison Agency/Getty Images
Susan Greenwood, Liaison Agency/Getty Images

Andy Warhol is best known for creating iconic Pop art paintings of Campbell's soup cans and Marilyn Monroe in the 1960s. With the Factory, his New York City studio, he made films (such as Chelsea Girls) and championed bohemian performers (including Edie Sedgwick and Nico) that he deemed superstars. He also co-founded Interview magazine and presciently declared that everyone in the future will be world-famous for 15 minutes. To celebrate what would have been the artist's 90th birthday, here are a dozen things you might not know about Warhol.

1. HIS PARENTS WERE POOR IMMIGRANTS FROM CENTRAL EUROPE.

After leaving their village in present-day Slovakia to come to America, Andrej (or Ondrej) and Julia Warhola welcomed their son Andrew Warhola to the world in 1928. The family, including Warhol's two older brothers, lived humbly in a small apartment in a working-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Andrej worked as a construction worker and coal miner but died of tuberculosis peritonitis when Warhol was 13.

2. HE WAS A DEVOUT CATHOLIC WHO REGULARLY ATTENDED MASS.

Warhol grew up as a practicing Byzantine Catholic, and he quietly continued to practice his religion as an adult. He went to a church on Manhattan's Upper East Side almost every day, attending Mass or praying in the afternoon. Warhol also wore a crucifix necklace, carried a rosary, and regularly volunteered at a church-run soup kitchen. Some of his art, such as his series The Last Supper, depicts religious themes, and Warhol is buried in a Catholic cemetery in Pennsylvania.

3. HE WAS THE VELVET UNDERGROUND’S MANAGER.

Pop artist and film-maker Andy Warhol (1928 - 1987
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

In 1966 and 1967, Warhol organized events dubbed The Exploding Plastic Inevitable to combine his interests in art, performance, music, and film. He featured the Velvet Underground in The Exploding Plastic Inevitable and encouraged the band to perform with Nico, one of his superstars. Warhol then co-managed the band, produced the Velvet Underground and Nico’s self-titled album, and let the band use his banana artwork as its album cover.

4. DRELLA WAS HIS NICKNAME.

Warhol's friends and creative collaborators in the Factory called him Drella, a portmanteau of the names Dracula and Cinderella. Because he was often insincere and flippant, especially in interviews, it could be hard to uncover Warhol's true thoughts. But the nickname Drella conveyed the passive-aggressive, Jekyll and Hyde-like nature of his personality. Two members of the Velvet Underground even released an album in Warhol's memory called Songs For Drella.

5. HE USED URINE TO OXIDIZE SOME OF HIS PAINTINGS.

In 1977, Warhol started creating a series of abstract paintings called The Oxidations. Using a base of copper paint, he added urine to oxidize the paint, creating unique colors and textures. Warhol encouraged his friends to urinate on the canvases. Because each person's diet and vitamin intake differed, their urine created slightly different colors in the oxidation process and turned the copper paint various shades of green, brown, and yellow. In 2008, one of his paintings in this series sold for almost $2 million.

6. HE WAS NOMINATED FOR A GRAMMY AWARD.

In the 1950s and '60s, Warhol worked as a freelance commercial artist for companies such as Harper's Bazaar, RCA Records, and Columbia Records. Besides creating cover art for the Velvet Underground, he designed album artwork for the Rolling Stones, John Cale, and Aretha Franklin. His 1971 cover for the Rolling Stones's album Sticky Fingers—a risqué image of a man's crotch (in jeans) with a working zipper—was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Album Cover. (It lost to a band called Pollution.)

7. HIS SILVER WIGS COVERED UP HIS EARLY BALDING.

In his early 20s, Warhol began going bald, so he wore wigs to obscure his hair loss. His silver wigs—he had a collection of dozens—contributed to his bohemian image and avant-garde mystique. Warhol's iconic 1986 series of self-portraits, called Fright Wig, shows his (fake) hair sticking straight up. In 2010, his purple self-portrait sold at Sotheby's for more than $32 million.

8. HE WAS A LIFELONG MAMA’S BOY.

Until her death in 1972, Julia Warhola was her son's close and constant companion. Mother and son lived and worked together in New York City for almost two decades. Julia appeared in his film Mrs. Warhol and provided calligraphy and lettering for his projects. A collection of her drawings is even on display at Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum.

9. TRUMAN CAPOTE CALLED HIM A LOSER.

 A visitor walks near Self-Portrait 1986 by artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987) at the Graves Gallery on April 11, 2012 in Sheffield, England
Christopher Furlong, Getty Images

Warhol admired Truman Capote's work and lifestyle, but the playwright didn’t feel the same. Recalling his meeting with a pre-fame Warhol (whom Capote claimed had been essentially stalking him), Capote described the artist as "one of those hopeless people that you just know nothing's ever going to happen to. Just a hopeless, born loser, the loneliest, most friendless person I'd ever seen in my life." Despite this cruel description, Capote later warmed to Warhol, and the two men had occasional lunches and collaborated on Interview magazine.

But their relationship was more as frenemies than as BFFs. Warhol reportedly said that one of Capote's scripts was awful and that in 1980, the author had become very distant and unfriendly: "It's strange, he's like one of those people from outer space—the body snatchers—because it's the same person, but it's not the same person."

10. A RADICAL FEMINIST WITH SCHIZOPHRENIA ALMOST KILLED HIM.

In 1968, Valerie Solanas shot Warhol (as well as art critic Mario Amaya) at the Factory. Warhol fought for his life, spending two months in the hospital recovering from his chest wound. Solanas, a radical feminist author diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia who advocated overthrowing the government and eliminating men, had appeared in Warhol's film I, a Man (that's Solanas talking on a staircase). She was mad at the level of control she felt Warhol had over her life, so she shot him. Nearly two decades later, Warhol died in 1987 of a heart attack after a gallbladder surgery, possibly due to complications from the gunshot wound.

11. HE MADE A COOKBOOK, AND IT'S AS BIZARRE AS YOU'D EXPECT.

In 1959, Warhol joined forces with his friend, interior decorator Suzie Frankfurt, to create a cookbook called Wild Raspberries. Mocking the genre of stylish French cookbooks, Warhol and Frankfurt wrote recipes for "dishes" such as Omelet Greta Garbo (to be eaten alone), Roast Iguana Andalusian, and Gefilte of Fighting Fish. Although the handmade cookbooks contained 19 Warhol illustrations, Wild Raspberries wasn’t a commercial success.

12. PITTSBURGH IS A MECCA FOR HIS FANS.

Visitors enter the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Archie Carpenter, Getty Images

Since 1994, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh has featured a treasure trove of Warhol-related items, including his paintings, drawings, sculptures, films, and photographs. You can also find issues of Interview magazine, his audiotaped recordings, diaries, wigs, and massive perfume collection. Perhaps most interestingly, the museum houses more than 600 Warhol time capsules, containing over three decades' worth of his newspapers, business documents, and childhood mementos.

Last Surviving Person of Interest in Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist to Be Released From Prison

Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Almost exactly 29 years ago, two men disguised as police officers weaseled their way into Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and started removing prized artworks from the wall. They made off with 13 famous paintings and sculptures, representing a value of more than $500 million. It remains the largest property theft in U.S. history, but no one has ever been charged in connection with the heist.

Now, as Smithsonian reports, the last living person who may have first-hand knowledge about the heist will be released from prison this Sunday after serving 54 months for an unrelated crime. Robert (Bobby) Gentile, an 82-year-old mobster who was jailed for selling a gun to a known murderer, has been questioned by authorities in the past. In 2010, the wife of the late mobster Robert (Bobby) Guarente told investigators she had seen her husband give several of the artworks in question to Gentile—a good friend of Guarente’s—eight years prior.

A 2012 raid of Gentile’s home also revealed a list of black market prices for the stolen items. Previous testimony from other mob associates—coupled with the fact that Gentile had failed a polygraph test when he was questioned about the art heist—suggest Gentile might know more about the crime than he has let on. For his part, though, Gentile says he is innocent and knows nothing about the art or the heist.

The FBI announced in 2013 that it knew who was responsible for the museum heist, but would not reveal their names because they were dead. Still, the whereabouts of the artworks—including prized paintings by Rembrandt, Manet, Vermeer, and Degas—remain unknown. The museum is offering a $10 million reward to anyone who can provide information leading to “the recovery of all 13 works in good condition," according to the museum's website. A separate $100,000 reward will be provided for the return of an eagle finial that was used by Napoleon’s Imperial Guard.

[h/t Smithsonian]

9 Colors Named After People

Alice Roosevelt—for whom Alice Blue is named—in 1902
Alice Roosevelt—for whom Alice Blue is named—in 1902
Frances Benjamin Johnston, Library of Congress/Wikimedia // Public Domain

Throughout history, a variety of famous people have lent their names to shades of brilliant blue, shocking purple, grassy green, muddy brown, and other hues. While many of these figures are artists who were known for using or developing these hues, other color eponyms come from the scientists who invented them or those who loved to wear them. Consider this list the place where the history books meet the artist’s palette.

1. Alice Blue

A pale azure blue named for Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, who was known for wearing gowns of the color and thus sparking a trend for it. (She was also known for smoking in public and other forms of mischief-making, leading her father to declare: “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”) Her ice-blue dresses inspired the song "Alice Blue Gown" by Joseph McCarthy and Harry Tierney, which premiered in the 1919 Broadway musical Irene. ("I once had a gown that was almost new / Oh, the daintiest thing, it was sweet Alice Blue / With little forget-me-nots placed here and there / When I had it on, I walked on air.")

2. Yves Klein Blue

Visitors look at 'Monochrome Blue, without title' (1960) by French artist Yves Klein
Visitors look at Monochrome Blue, without title (1960) by French artist Yves Klein
THOMAS LOHNES/AFP/Getty Images

The artist Yves Klein was interested in art as transcendence, and he’s perhaps best known for painting monochromes in a brilliant ultramarine meant to suggest the infinity of sea and sky. (As Klein once explained, "Blue has no dimensions, it is beyond dimensions.") In 1960, he registered a formula for the color—known as IKB, or International Klein Blue—with the French government; the formula relied on ultramarine pigment mixed with a synthetic resin that wouldn't dilute the color.

During his “blue period,” Klein exhibited only blue paintings and objects, releasing a thousand and one blue balloons into the sky in Paris to celebrate one show, and serving gin, Cointreau, and blue-dye cocktails at another. Don’t copy that last idea, mixologists: everyone who drank them peed blue for days.

3. Titian Red

Visitors look at a painting by Renaissance master Titian in Rome
Visitors look at a painting by Renaissance master Titian in Rome
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

A person with red hair is sometimes said to be a Titian, after the great 16th century Venetian painter who was notably fond of painting redheads. (Examples of such paintings include Bacchus and Ariadne and Noli me Tangere, now in London's National Gallery.) In the 1960s, redheaded Barbie dolls were officially known as “Titians.” More loosely, the term has come to mean any orange-red color, although people seem to love to debate exactly what shades count.

4. Scheele's Green

Svenska Familj-Journalen, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Arsenic-based green pigments were all the rage in the 19th century, coloring everything from hosiery to hats to children’s toys. The first such pigment on the scene was Scheele’s Green, discovered by Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele in 1775. The vibrant yellow-green hue caught on, especially after it was discovered that arsenic also produced a variety of other greens, from deep emerald to pale peridot. Although Scheele and others knew how toxic these pigments were, that didn't stop the colors from being used for clothing, candles, papers, playing cards, book-bindings, and sometimes even food. In perhaps the most famous example of its use, arsenic green wallpaper graced Napoleon’s last bathroom while he suffered through his exile on St. Helena, and some think the fumes caused by his long baths may have been what killed him.

5. Isabelline

José Reynaldo da Fonseca, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5

If true, this color's origin story has to be the most off-putting in history. Once used to describe the pale champagne color of certain horse coats and bird feathers, the term Isabella-colored or isabelline is said (by no less than Isaac D'Israeli's 1791 Curiosities of Literature) to come from Isabel of Austria, the devoted daughter of Philip II of Spain.

Supposedly, when Spain laid siege to the city of Ostend in 1601, Isabella vowed not to change her undergarments until the city was taken. She expected a speedy victory, but much to her dismay (and presumably that of everyone around her), the fighting continued for three years before Spain won.

The Oxford English Dictionary dismisses this origin story, noting that Isabella as a color is first noted in 1600, a year before the siege began. But linguist Michael Quinion notes that accounts in French, German, Spanish and Italian (where isabelline has a similar color meaning) refer to the earlier Queen Isabella of Castile (1451-1504) and the siege of Granada—which means the story might just be true, even if it's about a different Isabella and a different set of 7-month-old dirty underwear.

6. Fuchsia

Heinrich Füllmaurer, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Here's a more pleasant etymology: The vivid red-purple of fuchsia, the color, comes from fuchsia, the flower, which is in turn named for 16th-century German botanist Leonhart Fuchs. (His last name, by the way, comes from the German word for "fox.") And if you think fuchsia and magenta are the same color, you're closer than you might think: Magenta was originally an aniline dye named fuchsine, named after the fuchsia flower. The name was changed in 1859, the year it was patented, in honor of the French victory at the Battle of Magenta. That apparently helped the dye become a stunning success.

7. Vandyke Brown

Anthony van Dyck, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep, warm, transparent brown was made with a high concentration of organic matter (basically: actual dirt), and was popular with the Old Masters. It was named for the innovative Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck, who often used the color in his paintings, and who also lent his name to an early photographic printing process—which also produced a brown color, but did not actually involve dirt.

8. Perkin's Mauve

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Like so many scientific discoveries, the invention of synthetic dyes happened by accident. In 1856, chemistry student William Henry Perkin, then only 18, was trying to find a new way to make quinine (a popular treatment for malaria, and the ingredient that still gives tonic water its slightly bitter taste). The experiment didn't quite work as planned, but Perkin noticed some purple sludge left over in his flask after rinsing it with alcohol, and realized its potential.

His instincts were good: After Perkin patented his creation and began mass-producing it, the color swept England, becoming so popular that the magazine Punch condemned an outbreak of “the mauve measles.” The color was originally called aniline purple by Perkin, as well as Perkin's purple or Perkin’s violet. The mauve part of “Perkin’s mauve” came a few years later thanks to the French, who named it after their word for the mallow flower.

9. Hooker's Green

Thomas Herbert Maguire, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The warm, grassy "Hooker's Green" is named for botanical illustrator William Hooker (1779–1832), who created a special pigment just to convey the exact green of leaves.

Bonus: Mummy Brown

A close-up of an Egyptian mummy head
A close-up of an Egyptian mummy head
iStock.com/izanbar

OK, it’s not a color named after one person, but a color named after many people—many dead people. First made in the 16th and 17th centuries, but a special favorite of the 19th century painters, this rich brown pigment was created by mixing both human and feline mummy crumbles with white pitch and myrrh. (Although we tend to think of them as protected antiquities today, people in centuries past often considered mummies just another natural resource.)

In part because of its curious components, the pigment wasn’t the most stable in the world, and it fell out of favor once its origin story became better known. According to one biography, the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones gave his tube of Mummy Brown a funeral in his garden when he discovered where it came from. The pigment was sold into the 20th century, although if you see the name “mummy brown” used today, rest assured it contains no actual corpses. Probably.

A version of this list first ran in 2016.

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