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  • Provenance

    The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York
    Acquired from the above by the previous owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    I would prefer to remain a mystery; I never like to give my background and, anyway, I make it all different every time I’m asked… I’m influenced by other painters, everyone is in art. All the American artists have influenced me. ANDY WARHOL

    (Gretchen Berg, “Andy: My True Story”, Los Angeles Free Press, Los Angeles, March 17, 1967, p. 3)

    The present lot is from Warhol’s last series of Self-Portraits, executed only a few months before his unexpected death in 1987. The silhouetted portrait of the iconic Pop Master, set against a jet black background, evokes the presence of a modern day seer, making this self-portrait one of the most moving works of his six-decade career.

    Throughout, Warhol created thousands of silkscreens of the most beautiful women and men of the Twentieth Century, setting their iconic portraits against vivid backdrops, studying and memorizing their every feature with each canvas that was completed. It is not unknown that Warhol had a deep frustration with his own physical appearance and a life-long obsession with his public image. By the late 1980s, the decade in which the present lot was created, he had subjected his physical image to had a series of operations and treatments and transformed it from its earlier state. The most recognizable of his features, however, was his shock of peroxide hair, provided by his extensive collection of “fright wigs.” What is so remarkable about this Self-Portrait series is that Warhol displays himself with an extreme starkness and brutal honesty, taking a rare step against his life-long struggle with aging and beauty. Here, he reveals a new portrait; one in which he no longer hides behind enormous dark shades, inverted images, costumes, make up, or camouflage.

    Unlike previous self-portraits with the “Frightwigs”, the features of Warhol’s face appear in stark detail. The earlier silkscreens are clean images, showing a perfectly round face, smooth hair, and even-toned skin. Here, however, the artist’s disembodied head appears ghost-like, highlighting his cheekbones, dark eyes, and the wear of his age around his mouth. The face materializes from the darkness by which it is surrounded in an explosive shock of pink. The portrait confronts the viewer in its bold composition. The artist’s shock of peroxide hair creates a kind of halo, which seems to herald the artist’s own inevitable end, as if predicting the outcome of the next year. The spectre of death has been present throughout Warhol’s entire career; from his portraits of Marilyn Monroe, in the wake of her tragic death, to Jackie, captured just moments before her husband’s assassination, Warhol has exposed the bleak reality of the world we live in and the eternal present of death in life.

    The London-based dealer Anthony d’Offay persuaded Warhol to consider a new series of Self-Portraits in the winter of 1985. “At Christmas,” d’Offay recalled, “we visited a collector friend of Lucio Amelio who had a powerful red portrait of Beuys by Andy Warhol hanging in his house. As I looked at the painting I realised two things: first that Warhol was without question the greatest portrait painter of the 20th Century, and secondly that it was many years since he had made an iconic self-portrait. A week later, I visited Warhol in New York and suggested to him an exhibition of new self-portraits. A month later he had a series of images to show me in all of which he was wearing the now famous ‘fright wig.’ One of the images had not only a demonic aspect but reminded me more of a death mask. I felt it was tempting fate to choose this image, so we settled instead on a self-portrait with a hypnotic intensity. We agreed on the number of paintings and that some would have camouflage. When I returned to New York some weeks later the paintings were complete. The only problem was that Warhol had painted the demonic ‘Hammer House of Horror’ image rather than the one we had chosen. I remonstrated with him and reminded him of our agreement. Without demur he made all the pictures again but with the image we had first selected. And so between us we brought two great series of self-portraits into the world” (A. d’Offay, quoted in Andy Warhol: Self-Portraits, exh. cat., Kunstverein St. Gallen Kunstmuseum, 2004, p.127).

    As we look at the present lot and recognize the skull motif of the image, we certainly understand what d’Offay meant when he said the photograph was reminiscent of a death mask. We can imagine that, as his dealer, d’Offay saw Warhol’s choice of highlighting the brutally honest and even terrifying image as an ominous prophecy.Warhol himself had personal conflicts with the image upon its showing in London. As he had striven to aestheticize his own image, Warhol disliked the self-portraits immensely, finding their presence unbearable. Yet this conflict points to a larger theme throughout Warhol’s lifelong production of art. Though he initially found the present lot unlikeable, it has arisen as one of the most famous in Warhol’s oeuvre, reflecting that what he often chose to offer was often not what the public chose to embrace. For contemporary viewers of Self-Portrait, 1986, it was a chance to see the master of Pop Art stripped down to his honest essentials, devoid of any pretensions or disguises.

    Perhaps, in his famous dislike of this particular Self-Portrait, Warhol recognized precisely what effect these powerful portraits would have. Seeing his aged face, worn with decades’ cares of fame and image-consciousness, one could not help but see Warhol’s impending sickness, soon following that, his death the following February. As one of the greatest portrait painters, Warhol was inadvertantly juxtaposing his own self-image with the artistic tradition of momento mori. And, through invoking this artistic tradition, Warhol both canonized his status as a great artist and situated his work within the longstanding tradition of confronting our mortality through visual reflection.

  • Artist Biography

    Andy Warhol

    American • 1928 - 1987

    Known as the “King of Pop,” Andy Warhol was the leading face of the Pop Art movement in the United States in the 1960s. Following an early career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol achieved fame with his revolutionary series of silkscreened prints and paintings of familiar objects like Campbell's soup tins, and celebrities like Marilyn Monroe. Obsessed with popular culture, celebrity, and advertising, Warhol created his slick, seemingly mass-produced images of everyday subject matter from his famed Factory studio in New York City. His use of mechanical methods of reproduction, notably the commercial technique of silk screening, wholly revolutionized art-making.

    Working as an artist, but also director and producer, Warhol produced a number of avant-garde films in addition to managing the experimental rock band The Velvet Underground and founding Interview magazine. A central figure in the New York art scene until his untimely death in 1987, Warhol was notably a mentor to such artists as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

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synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas
22 x 22 in. (56 x 56 cm)
Stamped with the Estate of Andy Warhol and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and numbered “PO40.040” on the overlap and on the stretcher.

$4,000,000 - 6,000,000 

Sold for $4,002,500

Contemporary Art Part I

7 November 2011
New York