THE tale of a lost piece of Andy Warhol’s work is one of dogged determination, frustration, joy, disappointment and overwhelming relief – with detective work that even Sherlock Holmes would have found far from elementary.

The result of this sleuthing can now be viewed in the first exhibition of the famous artist’s textiles to be held in Scotland – but the key piece was nearly lost forever.

Given that Warhol’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe recently sold for $195 million, it seems hard to believe that a unique piece of his work was simply popped in a packet and posted from the US – where it went missing en route.

Finding the beautiful silk dress had taken years of detective work by curators Richard Chamberlain and Geoffrey Rayner and it was finally found in the possession of a woman in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who put it up for sale not knowing it was Warhol’s work.

Hardly able to believe his luck, Chamberlain bought it online for a mere $300 – it is now insured for a five-figure sum – and the woman assured him she could send it safely to the UK through a courier service she used.

However, Chamberlain was only able to track it to California, where it disappeared.

The National: 378751 01:***EXCLUSIVE*** The American artist and filmmaker Andy Warhol with his paintings(1928 - 1987), December 15, 1980. (Photo by Susan Greenwood / Liaison Agency).

“I was beside myself,” he told the Sunday National. “I had real regrets about it but I resigned myself to the fact it was lost forever.”

To his amazement, about three months later, a scuffed and dirty padded envelope arrived containing the butterfly dress.

“It looked as though it had been left in a lorry or kicked under something,” said Chamberlain.

“I couldn’t believe it when it turned up. It’s very special and historically important.”

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Rayner and Chamberlain’s hunt began back in 2010 when they started working on an exhibition about textiles and artists.

“We were looking at the big names like Picasso and Chagall but the elephant in the room was Warhol because we had no idea if he had produced, designed or made any textiles at all,” said Chamberlain.

The pair contacted The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh to ask if there were any records of textile work but drew a blank.

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Most people might have given up at that point, but Chamberlain and Rayner decided to trawl through old magazines and journals to see if they could find any examples of Warhol designs. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack when there’s no evidence the needle was even there.

“We looked and looked but found nothing,” said Chamberlain.

Yet they kept searching and after many hours of hunting, they found a three-page article in a 64-year-old copy of Glamour, illustrated with models wearing Andy Warhol butterfly print designs.

This proved that Warhol had worked on textiles, so their hunt next turned to vintage store online listings in the hope they could find textiles with the artist’s distinctive style and colours.

They went through thousands of listings and, bit by bit, started to uncover long-lost anonymous items in Warhol’s style which they then had to authenticate through more research.

“It was a real commitment and a bit like doing a jigsaw when you don’t know how many pieces there are,” said Chamberlain. “America goes online later than we do, so we were often doing it late at night or in the early hours.”

Their search was hampered by the fact that Warhol was not particularly proud of his textile work, even though it went on to inform the use of repetition in his famous Pop Art.

The National: Acrobatic Clown textile, circa 1955 © 2022 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.  Licensed by DACS, London

A breakthrough came when the Warhol museum began to dig deeper into its archive and found some textile samples, along with paid bills and invoices for fabric companies.

“We realised Warhol was not just dallying with a few designs on the side,” said Chamberlain. “This was part of his commercial work and a way for him to make serious money. Textiles were just another string to his bow.

“He was making high-quality and idiosyncratic work but many of his textiles were bought and sold anonymously to companies through agents. This was because at that time he was in no way a superstar. He was just a well-respected graphic artist and there was no cachet to his name.

"It was just work to him really but obviously quite a bit of work. The whole thing got more exciting as we uncovered more and realised there was potential to find a great deal of work in textiles.”

However, even though they managed to obtain quite a few pieces, the beautiful butterfly dress remained elusive, until in one casual, last-minute search, Chamberlain found a listing for it online.

“I did a double take but that was it and I was able to buy it very keenly because it wasn’t attributed to Warhol,” he said. “You can imagine our relief when it finally turned up as there are no more examples of that particular piece. It remains unique.”

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The dress will take pride of place in the exhibition at the world-leading Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh, along with a dress which is a “fantastic Warholised” take on the Paisley pattern.

“We’re a bit shell-shocked by it all really,” said Chamberlain. “He’s such an icon so to put together a strand of his work that had been totally eclipsed feels like a real achievement.”

Andy Warhol: The Textiles will showcase more than 60 textile works, featuring fabric lengths, garments, prints, film and photography. Together the pieces demonstrate how textile and fashion design were a crucial element to Warhol’s success as one of the most iconic artists of the last century.

One of the most inventive projects on display will be his designs for legendary New York café Serendipity3, where Warhol was a frequent visitor. Inspired by the café’s ice cream desserts, Warhol created an homage to playful food designs that will be displayed in the exhibition. The Dovecot café will be redesigned in honour of Warhol’s Serendipity3-inspired works.

Alongside the exhibition, Dovecot will host a range of events inspired by Warhol’s illustrations and designs, from science food events and fashion shows to textile printing workshops.

The exhibition runs from Friday (January 26) until May 18