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The Legal Battle Over Warhol’s Farrah Fawcett Portrait

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Warhol painting of Fawcett at UT Austin by Ethan Lungaard on Flickr

Warhol painting of Fawcett at UT Austin by Ethan Lungaard on Flickr

Andy Warhol produced two silkscreen portraits of the late Farrah Fawcett, but only one was turned over to the University of Texas at Austin per her wishes, claims the school. Accordingly, they’re suing Ryan O’Neal, Fawcett’s longtime companion, who the university alleges has the other one, to recover it.

Fawcett attended UT Austin in the 1960s, and once she gained fame as an actress through Charlie’s Angels, Warhol created the portraits, which, UT Austin claims, Fawcett kept until her June 2009 death. The complaint (PDF) states that via the Fawcett living trust, “Fawcett left all of her artwork and objects of art to UT Austin.” The trust, however, does not specifically name the items contained therein.

At some point, the school claims it discovered that O’Neal had kept the missing portrait and possibly other works of art that, according to the trust, now rightfully belong to the university, and the school is suing him to get them.

The complaint states, “Mr. O’Neal was not included in Ms. Fawcett’s will, nor in the Fawcett Living Trust, and Ms. Fawcett’s express wishes as stated in the Fawcett living trust have been thwarted by [O'Neal's] conversion. UT Austin files this lawsuit to recover the missing portrait that Ms. Fawcett left to her alma mater.”

In an interesting twist, O’Neal has now sued a former assistant of Fawcett’s for defamation for $1 million in damages, alleging that Craig Nevius made “false, malicious, and defamatory accusations” regarding the status of the missing portrait.

Indeed, O’Neal claims that it is these statements upon which the university relies as the basis of its lawsuit. O’Neal counters that the portrait belongs to him as it was a gift—there are conflicting media reports as to whether the gift was from Warhol or Fawcett; O’Neal has said he expects to be “completely vindicated in the courts.”

One might imagine that if the painting has belonged to O’Neal that he might have gotten it insured—Warhol’s iconic images can be worth in the tens of millions of dollars—which could be proof positive that the portrait wasn’t included in Fawcett’s trust.

For his part, Nevius has both denied saying that O’Neal stole the silkscreen and has been quoted as saying that O’Neal’s lawsuit is simply a way to try to “harass [him] into silence.”

So, just in case you needed another reason to make sure your will and trust documents are properly drafted, may we present Exhibit A? This is not just not the kind of lawsuit you want your estate to be tied up in after your death.

Stay tuned!

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July 27th, 2011 at 7:35 am