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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist; Todd Brasner, New York; Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    Perhaps no face in the world is as famous as the Mona Lisa’s.  Leonardo da Vinci could not have anticipated the unprecedented fascination with his enigmatic portrait and surely could not have imagined that some of the most famous artists of the twentieth century would reinvent her legendary visage. 
     
    It was fortuitous then that the Mona Lisa visited the United States in 1963 and was given all the fame and media attention of a visiting celebrity or state dignitary.  She was sent by Charles de Gaulle to the President and his wife, Jackie Kennedy, in the hopes of encouraging friendly relations between the United States and France.  The Mona Lisa graced both the National Gallery in Washington and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with her presence and received millions of visitors, including a brilliant young artist named Andy Warhol. 
     
    It is no surprise that her mysterious smile and worldwide fame would have captured Warhol’s attention.  Along her five hundred year journey, the Mona Lisa has become a celebrity, a mysterious and overexposed icon.   As with Warhol’s other women, his infatuation with her was more than just a dalliance - it was a relationship that would last throughout his career. 
     
    Fascinated by the aura of celebrity and the certainty of mortality, Andy Warhol explored and incorporated vestiges of both throughout his work.  He painted the most famous faces of his time, including Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy but perhaps none were as legendary as the Mona Lisa.  Undeniably, the most renowned icon of art history, her face has enraptured us for the past five hundred years, attracting a level of attention generally only bestowed upon celebrities.  Along with this adulation comes a rampant desire to see what lies beneath the façade, to see what secrets are hidden and perhaps no figure living or dead is as enshrouded in mystery as the Mona Lisa.  Her face has been reproduced more than any other work of art in the world yet the answer to why she was smiling just so will never be discovered.   
     
    Aside from the 1963 visit, the fragility and age of the painting ensure that she does not travel – her image therefore being solely dissipated through reproductions, photographs and replicated images.  It is for this very reason that she has become such a commodity, encouraging tourism and consumerism in very much the same way as a famous actress or President’s wife.  In placing the Mona Lisa within the same context, Warhol is both elevating popular culture and equalizing high art.  To him they are one and the same, low and high culture being cut from the same fabric. 
     
    Warhol’s paintings of the 1960s were primarily focused on these icons of popular culture, examining images disseminated through mass media and production.  Among these are not only the famous faces but the indelible images of the Campbell’s Soup Can and the Brillo Box.  Upon first meeting the Mona Lisa in 1963, he became so captivated by her image, mass appeal and aura, that he painted his Mona Lisa: Thirty are Better than One.  This was the first time he would approach the topic of altering a piece of Art History.  It was a topic he would sparingly address during his lifetime but one that led to some of his most famous paintings.  After this initial series from the early 1960s he would wait over a decade to revisit this famous icon, painting several different renditions between 1973 and 1979, one of the most stunning being the present work.  The second series are lush and rich owing to Warhol’s full mastery of the silkscreening technique, a process he had only begun to use in late 1961.
     
    Resplendent in hues of deep black and rich purple (the color of royalty and nobility), our Mona Lisa becomes a modern day masterpiece, serenely gazing at the viewer, her mystery still intact five hundred years later.  By employing both silkscreening and a refined palette of two colors, Warhol has accentuated her most famous features – the mystery in her eyes and the play of her smile, hinting at the same painterly effects of sfumato and chiaroscuro that Da Vinci would have used.   Warhol’s rendering is luscious; the layers of paint ranging from sheer to heavily loaded impasto against which the details of her dress and the landscape are rendered with impeccable precision
     
    Warhol was not the first artist to re-imagine the Mona Lisa.  Already in 1883, Le rire, an image of a Mona Lisa smoking a pipe, by Sapeck (Eugène Bataille) was shown at the Incoherents show in Paris.  However, perhaps aside from Warhol, the most famous recreation was Marcel Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q., of Mona Lisa with both a mustache and beard.  Duchamp was attempting to subvert higher culture (and promote Dadaist ideals) by taking an inexpensive readymade (in this case a postcard of the Mona Lisa) and altering it with the intention of challenging the preconceived notions of what art is and how it should be approached.  Both Duchamp’s use of readymade images and his profound effect on how art can and should be interpreted are mirrored by Andy Warhol fifty years later.  Warhol defined Pop Art, developing post-modernism through the use of silk-screening and the appropriation of photographs.  Always interested in the possibilities offered by the commercial graphic world and mechanical reproduction, copies and duplicates became raw material for Warhol. 
     
    By the time Warhol cast his spell on the Mona Lisa and vice versa, she was no longer considered purely high art but rather the most famous face in the world, something that was of equal (if not higher) importance to Warhol.  He was reacting not only to the painting itself but to the fame and power of her image in a culture saturated with replicas.
     
    Andy Warhol’s art is about appropriation and no image has been so thoroughly appropriated as the Mona Lisa.  Leonardo da Vinci painted her in 1503 and since then she has become the ultimate celebrity of Art History, a brand as famous as a Campbell’s soup can or a Brillo box.  A readymade icon, the Mona Lisa has defied time, only growing more legendary over the years.  Re-imagined by one of the most brilliant artists of the twentieth century, she has become an incomparable work of art that will forever outlast the fleeting nature of celebrity and the limitations of mortality.

  • Artist Bio

    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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107

Mona Lisa

1979
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas.
25 1/8 x 20 1/8 in. (63.8 x 51.1 cm).
Signed and dated “Andy Warhol 1979” on the overlap; also stamped with the Andy Warhol Authentication Board Inc. seals and numbered “A109·011” on the overlap.

Estimate
$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

sold for $1,986,500

Contemporary Art Part I

8 November 2010
New York