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  • 'We had already been planning for two years to cooperate on a project which was to strike out in a new direction: instead of reproducing the stereotyped icons of everyday life in America, Warhol would be confronted with an image which went against the grain of his usual preoccupations. By virtue of both its content and formal quality, the photograph of Lenin seemed ideal for the purpose.'
    —Bernd Klüser 
    A bold statement to the power of the image even outside of its ideological contexts, Andy Warhol’s acrylic and silkscreen portrait of the political theorist Vladimir Lenin carries the same iconic weight as his celebrity silkscreens of the likes of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. Highlighting the essential role of portraiture in Warhol’s practice, Lenin also showcases the versatility of his signature silkscreen technique, and the role of mechanised reproduction in the Age of the Image. 

     

    Andy Warhol in front of the Lenin works at his Factory, February 1987. Photo: Bernd Klüser, Courtesy Galerie Klüser © 2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London.

    Red Lenin 

     

    Conceptually connected to Warhol’s earlier Hammer and Sickle and Mao series of the 1970s, the Lenin works belong to the last series completed by the artist at the end of 1986, just months before his death the following year. 


    Based on an unusual photograph of Lenin acquired by a friend of Warhol’s publisher and gallerist Bernd Klüser, Lenin shows the Russian revolutionary as a young man with a sharply focused stare, his arm resting authoritatively on a pile of books, emphasising the intellectual roots of his political philosophy. Instantly recognisable as one of the most important political and cultural figures of the 20th century, Warhol has reduced the figure to the most basic elements of line and colour. Consisting of just five colours – luminous yellow patches highlighting the face and hands, the sharp white triangles of his shirt collar and cuffs, and the heavy black outline edged in electric blue drawing out key details of the figure against the overwhelming wash of deeply saturated red.

     

    Echoing the simple details and bold colouration of yellow on red that defines not only the Soviet flag, but more abstract symbolism surrounding ‘Red’ leftist politics that took pointed significance in America as the Cold War intensified through the latter half of the last century, Warhol demonstrates a subtle and sophisticated understanding of the role of the visual in popular culture and 20th century politics. Demonstrating remarkable dexterity and skill, the economic lines draw out the figure from the red ground, offering a compelling analogy for the ideological opposition of the individual and the collective that was staged so pointedly in the Cold War opposition of capitalist individualism and communist collectivism. 

     

    Greetings card featuring a portrait of Lenin, Private Collection. Peter Newark Historical Pictures / Bridgeman Images

    Portraits and Politics 

    'If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am.' —Andy Warhol Portraits held an important place in Warhol’s practice from 1963 onwards, allowing him to investigate key preoccupations of the construction of celebrity and American consumer culture. Whereas the iconic portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Jackie Kennedy all captured a poignant sense of the gap between public glamour and private tragedy, Warhol’s later portraits further erode any sense of the individual beneath the public persona, encouraging viewers to see these political leaders not only as ideological icons ‘but also as celebrity, just another figure of commercial mass culture.’i


    At the suggestion of his dealer Bruno Bischofberger that he should paint the most important figure of the 20th century – which Bischofberger deduced must be Albert Einstein. Warhol characteristically shifted the emphasis from ‘important’ to ‘famous’ and was intrigued that this might not be a silver-screen celebrity after all.  
    'But I was just reading in LIFE magazine that the most famous person in the world today is Chairman Mao. Shouldn’t it be the most famous person, Bruno?' 
    —Andy Warhol 
    A key player in global Cold War politics, Mao Tse-tung had ruled China’s communist government since its inception in 1949, having overseen the most extensive cultural revolution in the country’s history. When Nixon visited China in 1972, the world was watching. While this media attention generated a proliferation of images of Mao in the west, the communist leader had already drawn a Warholian proximity between political power and visual culture, circulating his own image widely in China as the focus of a concerted and effective propaganda campaign.

     

    While these irreverent, vibrant images seem to have little to do with communist ideology, they do have a lot to say about the nature of the closely interwoven relationship of aesthetics and politics, and of the fundamental importance of the image in 20th century culture.


    Lenin had died in 1924, and yet his image was more alive than ever before; widely printed and circulated, his likeness became interchangeable with the concept of communism in the Soviet Union as much as in the West. Executed in the dying years of the Soviet Union and after the long decades of violent ideological opposition between east and west that prolonged the Cold War, Warhol’s red Lenin collapses the ideological distinctions of ‘capitalist’ and ‘communist’, highlighting how both rely on visual culture to embed and promote their message. 

     

    Staging the Self

    'However Warhol intended his portraits to be seen – as vanitas images, history painting, or simply glamour poses – he did more than any other artist to revitalise the practice of portraiture, brining renewed attention to it in the avant-garde world. He reflected the desires and dreams of a new decade.' ii As Katharina Hegewisch has suggested, as a portraitist, ‘Warhol was interested less in the subject matter as an individual than in his or her public image as reflected by the media. As seen by Warhol, [his subjects] were imaginary figures rather than real people; actively preferring the shadow to the substance, the artis reproduced media stereotypes instead of dismantling them and looking for the private person beneath the public façade.’iii This applies as much to Warhol’s construction of himself as of celebrities and political figureheads, as his various Self-Portraits highlight.

     

    Andy Warhol, Mao, 1973, The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois © 2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London / Bridgeman Images.
    Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait, 1986, Tate, London, Photo: Tate © 2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London.

    Executed in the same year as Lenin, Andy Warhol’s arresting Self-Portrait employs the same boldly reduced colour scheme of red and black as the present work. Ghoulishly lit, Warhol’s head floats out of an inky blackness, his intense gaze and iconic features as instantly recognisable as the superstar celebrities he was so fixated by. More than any other artist of the 20th century, Andy Warhol harnessed the power of the portrait to reflect an image of contemporary consumer society back at itself. As Boris Groys has elegantly summarised Warhol ‘profoundly changed our understanding of the ways in which artistic subjectivity defines itself and its relationship to the world, to artistic tradition, and to society.’iv 

     

    Collector’s Digest

     

    •    The defining artist of post-war American Pop Art, Andy Warhol’s work is immediately recognisable and remains highly desirable.

     

    •    Taken from the last series of silkscreens executed by Warhol before his death in 1987, Lenin is a rare and striking example of the artist’s engagement with the cult of the image outside of the scope of Hollywood celebrity.

     

    •    The subject of major international exhibitions at Tate Modern, London; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Musée National d’Art Moderne – Centre Pompidou, Paris, Warhol’s work is also held in the permanent collections of the most important institutions worldwide.

     

    i  Boris Groys, ‘In Search of Suspended Time’, Cast a Cold Eye: The Late Work of Andy Warhol, London, 2006, p. 35. 
    ii  C. Defendi, F. Feldman and J. Schellmann, Andy Warhol Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1987, New York, 2003, p. 23. 
    iii  Katharina Hegewisch, ‘Lenin: Andy Warhol’s Last Series of Portraits’, Lenin by Andy Warhol (exh. cat.), Galerie Bernd Klüser, Munich 1987, p. 72. 
    iv  Boris Groys, ‘In Search of Suspended Time’, Cast a Cold Eye: The Late Work of Andy Warhol, London, 2006, p. 29. 

    • Provenance

      The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York
      Private Collection, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 2008

    • Exhibited

      Athens, The Byzantine & Christian Museum, Warhol/Icon: The Creation of Image, 7 October 2009 - 10 January 2010, p. 50 (illustrated, p. 51)

    • 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.

      View More Works

Property from a Distinguished European Collector

41

Lenin

stamped twice by the Estate of Andy Warhol and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., New York and numbered 'PA81.016' on the overlap; stamped by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., New York on the reverse
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
55.6 x 40.5 cm (21 7/8 x 15 7/8 in.)
Executed circa 1986, this work is recorded in The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts archives under no. PA 81.016 and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for £428,400

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
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Olivia Thornton
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2021