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  • Provenance

    The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York
    Acquired from the above by the previous owner
    Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, Contemporary Art, Part I, 7 November 2011, lot 21
    Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Andy Warhol spent the majority of his artistic career exploring the glamorisation of American culture. His recognisable portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy are steeped in flavourful colours of the 1960’s Pop scene. Focusing his efforts on the portraits of celebrities, Warhol ignored his own growing popularity as the king of Pop Art. The present lot, Self-Portrait, 1986, was made shortly before his death in 1987 and is his final visual transformation into the artistic icon that he represents to the world today.

    Ivan Karp, the famous art dealer first told Andy, "You know, people want to see you. Your looks are responsible for a certain part of your fame - they feed the imagination." (I. Karp, as cited in C .Ratcliff, Andy Warhol, New York, 1983, p.52) Warhol’s first attempt at self-representation was with his early 1960’s photo booth self-portraits, treating his uneasy relationship with his own public persona as an isolated image. By returning to photo booth negatives, Warhol remained aloof from the snapping camera and hid behind his large dark glasses. His early self-portraits depict Warhol as a camera shy artist, uncomfortable with the iconic glamour of celebrity that he himself adored so much in the circle of people he surrounded himself with. His 1967 Self-Portrait depicts a thoughtful, less intense Warhol with his head slightly turned and his gaze looking off into the distance. In drastic contrast to his photo booth images the present lot, Self-Portrait, 1986, confronts Warhol’s larger struggle with mortality. After surviving the traumatic murder attempt by Valerie Solanas in 1968, Warhol’s self-portraits became wrapped up in a powerful physiological veil and drove Warhol to truly question how he wished to be portrayed in the years to come. Warhol’s obsession with death embodied itself through many of his artistic series including his disaster series of the early 1960s, his portrayals of Jackie Kennedy mourning her husband John F. Kennedy after his assassination and his portraits of Marilyn Monroe after her tragic death. Warhol’s awareness of death has been a reoccurring theme throughout his artistic career and become only further emphasised after 1968. His later work of the 1980’s including his self-portraits and his series of religious paintings including The Last Supper certainly illuminated Warhol’s state of mind during the mid to late 80’s, one of self-reflection.

    Warhol’s acclaimed London gallerist Anthony d’Offay described that “In 1985, I was in Naples spending Christmas with Joseph Beuys and his family and we visited the house of an architect where there was a large red portrait of Beuys by Warhol in the bedroom. In that second I realized that Andy really was the greatest portrait painter of the second half of the 20th century. And yet it had been a long time since anyone had seen a memorable self- portrait of his. I went immediately to see Andy in New York and put the idea to him, which he embraced warmly and said, come back in three weeks and I’ll show you a new group of photographs and together we can choose an image. So I came back and he showed me photographs of him wearing his fright wig in various guises; there were probably about fifteen photographs.” (Anthony d’Offay) D’Offay was struck by the ominous nature of the Polaroid’s and immediately recognised the images as a blending of Warhol’s recognisable skull design and a death mask. Warhol’s Frightwig portraits depict Warhol’s head floating upon a stark, darkened background, the wig was a source of self-consciousness for Warhol who recounted that on the street in 1983 a kid yelled to another kid ‘“Look at the guy with the wig,” and I was really embarrassed, I blew my cool and it ruined my afternoon. So I was depressed.” (P. Hackett, The Andy Warhol Diaries, London, Penguin Classics, 2010)/ Warhol’s intense gaze darts directly out to the viewer and is serious and contemplative. The artist’s head rendered in lavender purple, reminiscent of Warhol’s Lavender Disaster, from 1963, stands solemnly in the middle of the canvas. From Warhol’s sunken cheeks his very high angular cheekbones protrude out and cut through the darkness of the black paint that surrounds him. His wig is disarrayed; glowing strands of purple hair towards the back of his head stick straight up into the black background showing utter resistance to gravity. Wrinkles have gathered around his lips and his jawbone flesh seems to sag with age. His constant concern over his own self projected image, especially the scars and markings on his faces faded away in the present lot and by doing away with his famous 1977, statement “Always omit the blemishes- they’re not part of the good picture you want,” Warhol has touched upon the sensitivity of his own immortality.

    As John Caldwell noted on Warhol’s final Self-Portrait series: “The new painting is like Warhol’s great self-portraits of the sixties, candid and disturbing…It is, in a sense, too self-revealing…Warhol’s face seems over-lit, almost dissolving in light, like a photograph on a sheet of newspaper held over a fire and about to burst into flames. Along with the obvious coldness and matter of factness of the image there is about it a kind of poignance and we feel that Warhol himself, like his self-portrait, is immanently perishable.” (John Caldwell in V. Brockis, Andy Warhol, Da Capo Press, London, 2003, p. 480) The portrait is silhouetted and set against a jet black background and evokes a sense of the dark, the disturbed and the unfinished.

    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 a series of operations and treatments, transforming it from its earlier state. The most recognizable of his features, however, remained 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. In this painting he reveals a new portrait; one in which he no longer hides behind enormous dark shades, inverted images, costumes, make up, or camouflage. The artist’s disembodied head appears ghost-like, materialized 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.

    It is possible that, in his famous dislike of this particular Self-Portrait, Warhol recognized the lasting effect this powerful portrait would have. In the presentation of his aged face, worn with the effects of his decades of fame and the results of his punishing aesthetic self-consciousness, one cannot help but see Warhol’s inevitable and impending sickness. In fact, Warhol passed away the following February, soon after the completion of the painting. As perhaps the most iconic portrait painter, the importance of Warhol’s self-depiction can be seen as providing a momento mori, a lasting part of his undeniable genius. In this lot, Warhol both canonises his status as a great artist and situates his work within the longstanding artistic tradition that aims to confront the limits of human mortality with the infinite quality pertaining to visual representation.

  • 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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synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas
56 x 56 cm (22 x 22 in.)
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.

£2,500,000 - 3,500,000 

Sold for £2,882,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
[email protected]
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening

London Auction 2 July 2014 7pm