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  • Overview

    Arguably one of the most recognisable paintings in the canon of Western art, Andy Warhol’s Flowers from 1964 embodies the zeitgeist of an era. The composition’s broad swath of electric green, overlaid with black shades and punctuated by four large, non-specific flowers, is at once representational and abstract, uplifting and somber. First executed in the summer of 1964, Warhol’s Flowers emerged during a transitional period within the artist’s life and career. Struck upon almost haphazardly at the suggestion of his friend, the then curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Henry Geldzahler, the Flowers would inaugurate Warhol’s time at Castelli and symbolise the establishment of Pop as a global phenomenon. Probably produced in October-November 1964, shortly before they were exhibited at Castelli Gallery in November-December of that year, the iconic canvas’s 24-inch iteration was amongst the most numerous of the Flowers series, 81 in total being noted in the artist’s catalogue raisonné. Within this body of work, other examples are held in such revered institutions as the Guggenheim Museum, New York, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

     

    The Genesis of Warhol’s Flowers

     

    In the spring of 1964, Warhol decided to leave the representation of the Stable Gallery and to join that of Leo Castelli, the grand impresario of the Pop Art movement in New York. As epitomised by his 32 Campbell's Soup Cans and his Elvis show at the Ferus Gallery in July 1962 and in September 1963, as well as his Death paintings at Galerie Ileana Sonnabend in January 1964 and his Brillo Box sculptures at the Stable Gallery in April 1964, Warhol preferred to dedicate his gallery exhibitions to a single theme, subject or sequence. The summer of 1964 afforded the artist the time and space needed to conceptualise a new series that he could show at his inaugural exhibition with Castelli in the fall. While mulling over options in the Factory, he was visited by his friend Henry Geldzahler, who, according to legend, suggested to Warhol that he paint flowers. He claimed, ‘I looked around the studio and it was all Marilyn and disasters and death. 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 The magazine that Geldzahler had picked up was the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography in which an article described – and illustrated – a new Kodak colour processing system. The layout consisted of one image of seven hibiscus blossoms reprinted numerous times, conveying the differing effects of the system. The seriality of the spread and the subject matter seemed tailor-made to catch Warhol’s attention, which he indeed utilised as the idea for his next series.

     

    Patricia Caulfield’s pictures of hibiscus flowers on the cover and two spreads of Modern Photography, June 1964.
    Patricia Caulfield’s pictures of hibiscus flowers on the cover and two spreads of Modern Photography, June 1964.

    Ever since their inception, Warhol’s Flowers cemented their position as one of the most iconic formulations of Pop imagery. Their effervescent beauty became emblematic of the rapidly changing post-war culture, and the manner in which it was manifested in social, political, and cultural realms. Unlike Warhol’s legendary subjects of that period – consumerism, celebrity, death and disasters – his corpus of Flowers was a significant departure to the realm of abstraction, not only in terms of aesthetic character, but also with regard to philosophical import. While the paintings that immediately preceded Flowers typically represented narrative facts recorded through the objectivity of the camera lens and re-contextualised through the artist's characteristic silkscreen support, this series presented a quotidian subject devoid of context. There was no story of a spectacular rise to fame or untimely death behind these petals, no self-evident critique of the agents of celebrity culture or the manipulation of collective psychology through mass-media. Even the Dollar Bills and Campbell's Soup Can pictures that pioneered Warhol’s concept of endlessly proliferating imagery were wedded to the specific cultural inheritance of the American Dream and consumer culture. With the Flowers’ indeterminate content, Warhol invited, for the first time, a far greater degree of interpretation, prompting reflection from the spectator, and thereby driving a far grander range of individual responses.

     

    Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962, synthetic polymer paint on thirty-two canvases, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence.
    Andy Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans, 1962, synthetic polymer paint on thirty-two canvases, Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2020 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London. Image: 2020, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence.

    Formatting An Iconic Image

     

    While it may seem that Warhol simply appropriated the image and had it screen printed on canvas, the amount of alteration to the source material was significant. After cropping the photograph and rotating one of its blossoms to achieve his desired square format, Warhol heightened the image's contrast to such an extent that it was entirely unrecognisable as a hibiscus flower. Flat, planar shapes and vivid outlines characterised the final format, and Warhol transferred the design onto canvas in fluorescent paint, making each blossom appear to float over a grainy pattern of black and neon green. The silkscreened Flowers capture Warhol's increasing interest in mass-produced, assembly-line construction; specifically, the canvases’ square format satisfied him because their regular shape allowed the flower paintings to be hung any side up. ‘I like painting on a square because you don't have to decide whether it should be longer-longer or shorter-shorter or longer-shorter: it's just a square’, Warhol said.ii Flattening colour and form in this way generated what is probably the most abstract of all of Warhol's 1960s images, and notably presaged the abstract painterliness of his Shadow paintings of the late 1970s. 

     

    A Symbol of Life and Death

     

    As colourful and attractive as the Flowers paintings are to the eye, they nevertheless have a more subversive and subliminal reference to the presence of death in life – a constant theme throughout Warhol's output. From his images of Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, suicides, car crashes, and electric chairs to the skulls and self-portraits of his later career, the brevity of life frequently lingers under the acrylic and silkscreen ink of his canvases. ‘A lot of Andy's work revolves around that subject’, wrote Ronnie Cutrone. ‘The Marilyn paintings are about life and death and the Flowers are with their black, menacing background. Not the watercolor Flowers - there is nothing menacing about those flowers at all. I'm talking about the first Flowers from 1964 - they are a bit menacing. We kids - Andy used to call everyone a 'kid' until they were eighty-five years old - all knew about that. Lou Reed, Silver George Milloway, Ondine, and me - we all knew the dark side of those Flowers’.iii

     

    Andy Warhol standing in front of one of his large silk screen paintings of flowers, 15 January 1973. Image: Evening Standard/Getty Images.
    Andy Warhol standing in front of one of his large silk screen paintings of flowers, 15 January 1973. © 2020 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London. Image: Evening Standard/Getty Images.

    Quoting Peter Schjeldahl 


    ‘They are so goddamn beautiful. And so simple. And their glamour was so intense. What killed you, killed you, was the grainy black-and-white of the stems. That grainy look with that Day-Glo color was killer, and still is. I think it still hasn't been acknowledged that the whole critical debate should have been over at that moment. Because these Flowers paintings had all the Kantian principles that Greenberg was pushing. Suddenly there were so many things that were supposed to be problems that were not problems. The Flowers resolved all the formal issues Greenberg had been talking about, but with a realistic, not an abstract, image. That's why we reach for the word “genius.” Genius is what goes, “That’s not a problem.” He sees clearly. He just does it’.iv 

     

    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 David Bourdon, Warhol, New York 1989, p. 191.
    iii Ronnie Cutrone, quoted in John O'Connor and Benjamin Liu, Unseen Warhol, New York, 1996, p. 61.
    iv Peter Schjeldahl, quoted in Tony Sherman and David Dalton, POP: The Genius of Andy Warhol, New York, 2009, pp. 236-237.

    • Provenance

      The Artist
      Paul Warhola Family Collection, Pittsburgh
      Christie's, New York, 8 November 1989, lot 341
      Private Collection, Europe
      Private Collection, Paris
      Private Collection
      Christie’s, New York, 17 May 2018, lot 63B
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Literature

      Georg Frei and Neil Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings and Sculptures 1964-1969, vol. 02A, New York, 2004, p. 302

    • 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.

       

      View More Works

18

Flowers

signed and dated 'ANDY WARHOL 64 Andy Warhol' on the overlap
synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas
61 x 61 cm (24 x 24 in.)
Executed in 1964.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£1,400,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for £1,595,500

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4026
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 20 October 2020