Andy Warhol - Evening & Day Editions London Thursday, September 21, 2023 | Phillips
  • “No great genius has ever been without a touch of insanity.”

    Interlaced with the score of his most acclaimed composition, the Moonlight Sonata, Andy Warhol’s portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven reflects the artist’s fascination with the cult of genius. The term ‘genius’ has its origins in the Latin verb gignere, meaning ‘to give birth or bring forth’. This idea that some people are special and are born with outstanding talent or ability became popular in ancient Rome and has continued to gain traction over the centuries. Following Warhol’s unwavering interest in fame, icons and, importantly, the projection of his own image, it is no surprise that the notion of genius became extremely interesting to him. In the canon of art history, countless artists have depicted themselves in the quintessential guise of troubled creative genius. Gustave Courbet, for instance, famously depicted himself as distressed and wild-eyed in his self-portrait entitled The Desperate Man (1843-45). Warhol’s portrait of Beethoven was executed in 1987, shortly before Warhol’s death, and one cannot help but wonder whether the artist aspired to the genius status of his sitter, or if he instead saw himself as an equal – a fellow genius whose fame would similarly endure for centuries to come.


    Gustave Courbet, The Desperate Man, 1843-45, Private Collection. Image: Luisa Ricciarini / Bridgeman Images

    “Life would be flat without music. It is the background to all I do. It speaks to the heart in its own special way like nothing else.”
    —Ludwig van Beethoven

    With bold graphic outlines and poster-like colour fields, Warhol's screenprint transforms Beethoven into a 1980s pop icon. Bright pink, red and blue accentuate the composer's wild hair and heighten the intensity of his gaze. The dark backdrop evokes a Baroque chiaroscuro, drawing attention to the sitter’s pensive expression and also the act of composing that he is engaged in. Furthermore, the contrasting tonal values echo the dramatic musical changes in volume and pace which, in 1932, led the critic Ludwig Rellstab to describe the first movement as like "a boat passing the wild scenery of Lake Lucerne in the moonlight." The present lot is from a portfolio of four screenprints, published by gallerist Hermann Wünsche in Bonn, Germany – Beethoven’s birthplace. The composer’s biography is further entwined with the piece as the notes of Moonlight Sonata, or Piano Sonata No. 1 in C# Minor, dance across the page. This score was composed in 1801, the year that Beethoven first realised he was losing his hearing. In choosing Moonlight Sonata to represent Beethoven’s oeuvre, Warhol highlights Beethoven's remarkable musical accomplishments and enduring legacy, whilst also indicating the tragedy of the composer losing his hearing. Thus, Warhol’s portrait of this legendary historical personal embodies a profound mixture of tragedy and genius—undoubtedly a sentiment that resonated with Warhol as well.


    Joseph Karl Stieler, Ludwig Van Beethoven, 1820, Private Collection. Image: FineArt/Alamy Stock Photo

    Warhol’s screenprint appropriates Beethoven’s most famous likeness, the neoclassical painting by Karl Joseph Stieler that depicts Beethoven working intently on his acclaimed composition, the Missa solemnis (1819-23). After being commissioned by Beethoven’s close friends, Franz and Antonie Bretano, the portrait was completed in four sittings between February and April 1820. An idealised and heroic representation, Stieler’s painting is the only portrait Beethoven posed for in his lifetime. The painting has significantly influenced our understanding of Beethoven’s personality and physical appearance over the past two centuries and has frequently served as the basis for numerous reproductions, disseminating the composer’s image and fame. Much alike Courbet’s self-portrait, Stieler presents Beethoven with a commanding chiaroscuro, accentuating his leonine mane and penetrating gaze. This depiction captures the quintessential essence so commonly employed to visualise history’s creative genii.

    • Provenance

      Galerie Hohmann, Cologne
      Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1990

    • Literature

      Frayda Feldman and Jörg Schellmann 392

    • 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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Property From A Private German Collection


Beethoven (F. & S. 392)

Screenprint in colours, on Lenox Museum Board, the full sheet.
S. 101.8 x 102 cm (40 1/8 x 40 1/8 in.)
Signed by the executor of the Estate of Andy Warhol, the publisher, the printer and numbered 38/60 in pencil on the stamped Certificate of Authenticity on the reverse (there was also an edition of 20 in Roman numerals and 15 artist's proofs), published by Hermann Wünsche, Bonn, Germany, unframed.

Full Cataloguing

£50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for £101,600

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Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 21 - 22 September 2023