Andy Warhol - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | Phillips
  • An exceptionally vibrant example from one of Andy Warhol’s most iconic series, Flowers radiates bursts of scarlet, cadmium red, and violet against a sea of emerald green. The present work, which was executed among his first Flowers in 1964, signaled a shift from his depictions of timely, instantly-recognizable branding to a more abstracted and timeless imagery—though, of course, still seizing source material mediated by popular culture and print magazines. Embracing a distinctive hyper-flatness that presaged Warhol’s later explorations in wallpaper, this body of work represented the culmination of his iconic Pop aesthetic before announcing his short-lived “retirement” from painting. Electric yet macabre, distinctive but mechanical, the Flowers marked a seminal chapter in Warhol’s career and are iconic relics of 20th century art history.



    Jeff Koons, Mound of Flowers, 1991. Tate, London. Artwork: © Jeff Koons 


    A Time for Change

    "But now it’s going to be flowers—they’re the fashion this year…They’re terrific!"
    —Andy Warhol

    Following a string of high-profile exhibitions that had cemented Warhol’s reputation as one of the leading figures of the burgeoning Pop movement, the artist joined Leo Castelli Gallery in early 1964. His previous attempt at showing with the pioneering gallerist in 1961 was rejected, but he was now granted the opportunity to share a historic roster with formidable art world personalities such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Frank Stella. Expertly talented in self-marketing, Warhol had cleverly focused his gallery presentations on a single subject or theme, including his 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans and Elvis shows at Ferus Gallery in 1962 and 1963; the Death and Disaster series which debuted at Galerie Ileana Sonnabend in January 1964; and his Brillo Box sculptures at Stable Gallery in April of that year. 


    With his inaugural Castelli exhibition slated for autumn 1964, the summer afforded Warhol the time and space to conceptualize a new body of work to symbolize this major professional turning point. Henry Geldzahler, the artist’s friend and then-curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, visited Warhol while he was mulling over ideas at the Factory. “I looked around the studio and it was all Marilyn and disasters and death,” Geldzahler recalled. “I said, ‘Andy, maybe it’s enough death now.’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Well, how about this?’ I opened a magazine to four flowers.”i



    Andy Warhol with his assistants at the Factory, New York, 1964. Image: © Ugo Mulas Estate, All rights reserved, Artwork: © 2022 Andy Warhol Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    Andy Warhol with his assistants at the Factory, New York, 1964. Image: © Ugo Mulas Estate, All rights reserved, Artwork: © 2022 Andy Warhol Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Warhol’s Flowers


    Flipping to a page in the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography, the two saw a foldout of four photographs of seven hibiscus blossoms captured by the magazine’s executive editor, Patricia Caulfield. The images were intended to illustrate the myriad visual outcomes possible from varying exposure periods and filter settings from a new Kodak color processing system; thus, each reproduction possessed subtle tonal distinctions, a striking seriality that no doubt appealed to Warhol’s predilection for repetition and successive imagery—as well as his desire “to be a machine.”ii 

    "[The Flowers] were totally successful and we sold them all! And you could keep selling them right now! That's it. That's one of those immortal images."
    —Ivan Karp

    While adapting the source photograph for painting, the artist made substantial alterations: he cropped it into a square composed of only four large flowers, rotated the individual blossoms, and then transferred his new composition to several non-uniformly sized screens. During this process, Warhol requested his assistant Billy Name-Linich “run the photo repeatedly through the Factory’s new photo stat machine” at least a dozen times because he “didn’t want it to look like a photo at all. He just wanted the shape, the basic outline, of the flowers.”iii Subsequently, the artist and his assistants applied continuous, flat planes of paint to the canvases before silkscreening the photographic representation on top. One of the 24 original 48-inch canvases produced, the present work was executed by Warhol before he had even officially determined that the Flowers would be the subject of his Castelli show.



    Source material for the Flowers. The Archives of the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh Art. Artwork: © 2022 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 
    Source material for the Flowers. The Archives of the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh Art. Artwork: © 2022 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 


    Following his ultimate decision to present this new body of work at the exhibit, the Flowers were met with both critical and commercial acclaim, in addition to intense legal debate. Claiming that Warhol made unauthorized use of her photograph, Caulfield sued Warhol in 1966 for copyright infringement. The polarizing litigation attracted wide interest thanks to its deep-seated irony: the artist had built his career appropriating ubiquitous yet patented logos such as Coca-Cola bottles and cans of Campbell's soup, but judicial issues arose only after his use of a photograph of a garden flower that he had heavily altered. In fact, Pop scholar Michael Lobel noted that Warhol’s modifications to Caulfield’s undoubtedly hibiscus flowers went as far as to make the blooms ambiguous: “In the New York Herald Tribune they were identified as anemones, in the Village Voice as nasturtiums, and in both Arts and Art News as pansies.”iv Though she won her case, Caulfield’s suit paradoxically seemed to double down on the very concerns of post-modernism—questions of image ownership, reproduction, and originality—that had preoccupied Warhol throughout his oeuvre.


    "Now We’re Doing My Flower Period!"

    "[They’re] like cut-out gouaches by Matisse set adrift on Monet's lily pond."
    —David Bourdon

    Imbued with Warhol’s idiosyncratic visual language, the Flowers are his contribution to one of art history’s richest genres: the age-old aesthetic heritage of flower painting. “With the Flowers,” Gerard Malanga expressed, “…he was kind of repeating the history of art. It was like, now we’re doing my Flower period! Like Monet’s water lilies, Van Gogh’s flowers, the genre.”v Less interested in portraying a realist or gestural representation of blossoms than a modern, mechanical reproduction of a representation of them, Warhol’s flora are rendered in synthetic, fluorescent hues that eschew any evocation of nature.



    Jan Davidz de Heem, Vase of Flowers, c. 1660, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. Image: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 1961.6.1, Andrew W. Fund
    Jan Davidz de Heem, Vase of Flowers, c. 1660, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. Image: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 1961.6.1, Andrew W. Fund


    The artificiality of Flowers is reminiscent of 17th century Dutch “impossible bouquets”—marvelous collections of flowers that, at the time, could never be found together due to geographical and seasonal restraints. The impossibility of these arrangements no longer resonates with viewers today, as global trade and mass consumerism have made them not only plausible but commonplace. Similarly, despite their synthetic color and exaggerated flatness that would seem to have no corollary in reality, Warhol’s manufactured flowers are redolent of the representations of nature that feel most familiar in the post-modern era. “Warhol’s flowers are the flowers of the city rather than of the field. Flat and unrealistic, they bring to mind both the plastic and artificial flowers so common in our society...” art critic Paul Bergin elucidated. “They are flower images stripped of their flower-ness, the reduction of the flowers which gape at us from awnings, wallpaper and contemporary centerpieces. Silk-screened onto the canvas, Warhol’s flowers reside there in all their machine-made glory, a valid presentation of the twentieth-century flower…”vi 


    The Flash of Beauty


    Despite Geldzahler’s hope that this seemingly ebullient subject matter would index a departure from Warhol’s death and tragedy tropes, Flowers has been interpreted as a funereal coda to his earlier work. The pitch-black background acts as a memento mori to the lively vibrancy of the blossoms it envelops, and Warhol’s macabre inclusion of his Jackie Kennedy portraits, which were appropriated from a photograph captured soon after her husband’s assassination, in the Castelli Flowers show lend them a similarly devastating connotation. “What is incredible about the best of the flower paintings (especially the very large ones) is that they present a distillation of much of the strength of Warhol's art—the flash of beauty that suddenly becomes tragic under the viewer's gaze,” the writer and curator John Coplans elucidated. “The garish and brilliantly colored flowers always gravitate toward the surrounding blackness and finally end in a sea of morbidity. No matter how much one wishes these flowers to remain beautiful they perish under one's gaze, as if haunted by death.”vii 


    i Henry Geldzahler, quoted in Tony Sherman and David Dalton, POP: The Genius of Andy Warhol, New York, 2009, p. 235.
    ii Andy Warhol, quoted in Gene Swenson, “What is Pop Art? Interviews with Eight Painters,” Art News, November 1963, p. 26.
    iii Tony Scherman and David Dalton, Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol, New York, 2009, p. 237.
    iv Michael Lobel, Andy Warhol: Flowers, exh. cat., Eykyn Maclean, New York, 2012, n.p.
    v Gerald Malanga, quoted in David Dalton and David McCabe, A Year in the Life of Andy Warhol, New York, 2003, p. 74.
    vi Paul Bergin, “Andy Warhol: The Artist as Machine,” Art Journal, vol. 26, no. 4, Summer 1967, p. 360.
    vii John Coplans, Andy Warhol, New York, 1978, p. 52.

    • Provenance

      The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., New York
      Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Zurich
      Private Collection, United States
      Phillips, New York, May 15, 2014, lot 25
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Literature

      Georg Frei and Neil Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings and Sculptures, 1964-1969, Vol. 2A, New York, 2004, no. 1318, p. 295 (illustrated, p. 291)
      "Andy Warhol: The Pope of Pop," Barnebys Magazine, May 3, 2018, online (illustrated)

    • Artist Biography

      Andy Warhol

      American • 1928 - 1987

      Andy Warhol was the leading exponent of the Pop Art movement in the U.S. 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, such as Campbell's soup tins, and celebrities, such as 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 also a mentor to such artists as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.


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stamped twice by the Estate of Andy Warhol and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. and numbered "PA53.012" on the overlap; numbered "PA53.012" on the stretcher
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
48 x 47 7/8 in. (121.9 x 121.6 cm)
Executed in 1964.

Full Cataloguing

$8,000,000 - 12,000,000 

Sold for $9,351,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2022