Andy Warhol was a game-changer in the art world, with an amazingly prescient view of how the culture of celebrity and image-making would evolve into the 21st-century. Obsessed with celebrities and commercial advertising techniques and imagery, he developed iconic works.
Both sitters in the print works offered here are icons; Dame Elizabeth Taylor was a Hollywood megastar, as well known for her work on-screen as her private life. Married eight times, famously twice to the same man, she was also an astute businesswoman who was one of the earliest celebrities to endorse perfumes, a move followed by film and music stars today as a way to diversify their income and personal brand. Sigmund Freud is an icon in a completely different area but with no less impact. His research into the human psyche and resultant theories have made him a pervasive cultural figure, consistently referred to across cultural and artistic thought and debate.
Warhol was intrigued by mortality, the vibrant image of someone in life masking the inevitability of their death and the powerful endurance of an image beyond that death. He first depicted Elizabeth Taylor in the early 1960s when she was at the height of her career, but also seriously ill with pneumonia, one of many illnesses that would plague her across her long life. Meanwhile his portrait of Freud is from a series he created in 1980 entitled Ten Portraits of Jews from the Twentieth Century, in which all the sitters, selected for their impact within their fields, were already dead.
In both depictions, Warhol applies his signature technique, overlaying a promotional image of Taylor with bold sections of colour across her lips and eyes. This painterly and dramatic make-up transforms the straight forward posed portrait into a piece of Pop Art, playing up the glamour of her celebrity image.
As art historian Robert Rosenblum has commented, ‘the contradictory fusion of the commonplace facts of photography and the artful fictions of a painter’s retouchings was one that... became a particularly suitable formula for the recording of those wealthy and glamorous people whose faces seem perpetually illuminated by the afterimage of a flash-bulb.’
The portrait of Freud has a more eventful history. Made when the artist’s career was starting to taper off in 1980, the concept for the series was suggested by his publisher Ronald Feldman and the ten subjects were selected by Susan Morganstein, the art gallery director of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Washington. The initial exhibition of the resultant works divided critics, some of whom felt it in bad taste and others experiencing it as a creative celebration of the Jewish impact on twentieth-century culture. With time, the series has been further interrogated and more widely celebrated, with certain images becoming widely known within Warhol’s artistic legacy. The Pop Art approach that was Warhol’s hallmark is apparent in the depiction of Freud, the line drawing outline portrait was developed from an archival photograph, which Warhol laid over blocks of colour then added some loose highlights for depth. The resultant effect is a slight disconnection of the figure, transforming an image into an icon, onto which we could read many of Warhol’s theories of self.
Warhol liked to explore the gaps and overlaps between man and machine, advertising and art. In 2022, these images, as well as their sitters and the artist remain iconic, maintaining a glamour and enigma that continues to enthral us.
Lyon & Turnbull are delighted to offer several auctions a year across the UK featuring to Modern British painting, sculpture, prints and drawings - including MODERN MADE in London. These Modern British art auctions feature works from the likes of Walter Sickert and the Camden Town Group to Terry Frost and the St Ives School, we also handle selected works by all of 20th century Europe’s major figures and movements.
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