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27

PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTOR

Andy Warhol
LENIN
JUMP TO LOT
27

PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTOR

Andy Warhol
LENIN
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Andy Warhol
1928 - 1987
LENIN
signed and dated 86 on the overlap
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas 
182 by 121cm.; 71 5/8 by 47 5/8 in.
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This work is stamped by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and The Estate of Andy Warhol on the overlap and numbered PA81.018 on the stretcher.

Provenance

The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., New York

Sale: Christie’s, New York, Post-War Evening Sale, 15 November 2000, Lot 33

Gallery Sho, Tokyo

Sale: Sotheby’s, London, Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 26 June 2002, Lot 41

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner 

Catalogue Note

Andy Warhol’s series after the cult Bolshevik leader, Vladimir Lenin, was to be the artist’s last major body of work. Here towering over the viewer at an immersive 183cm. in height, the present canvas is the second largest size from the series of paintings that Warhol created in 1986 for an exhibition scheduled for the following year with the German gallerist Bernd Klüser. Along with its counterparts, this monolith-like black painting certainly belongs among the most austere and solemn of the artist’s late practice, and, along with the earlier 1970s Hammer and Sickle series and portraits of Chairman Mao, forms an intriguing riposte to the consumer products and capitalist tokens that first propelled Warhol to the forefront of the international art world. Famous for his typically drôle ambiguity, Warhol once again walks that fine line between superficial artifice and deep social commentary with this series. Indeed, it is known that Warhol himself possessed markedly left-wing political views, and yet his electric-neon flourishes and mass-manufacture technique propel this cult symbol of communist revolution into the ephemeral world of capitalist Americana. Radical politics aside, Lenin becomes yet another Warholian pin-up, transported into a pantheon of silver-screen idols readymade for mass worship. 

Akin to the multi-coloured and abstract expressionist transformation of Mao Zedong’s State portrait, Lenin is subject to Warhol’s inimitable hand. Transformed from the grisaille of the original source image, Lenin’s face is bubble-gum pink and outlined in vibrant yellow and bright blue pigment; the studious books piled up in front of him are similarly highlighted, with the brightness of his hand and cuff contrasting brilliantly with the sombre inky darkness beyond. Although instantly recognisable to millions worldwide – and perhaps even worrisome to some in the USA having emerged contemporaneously with the heighted of the Cold War – Lenin’s image is further magnified and celebrated by Warhol’s masterful Pop treatment.

Klüser recalls the germination of Warhol’s 1986 Lenin series: “We agreed that he would do a series of pictures in three different sizes, together with a set of drawings and collages and a silkscreen print edition. Warhol promptly set to work on a series of drawings. Our experiments with the prints over a period of several months had a considerable influence on the eventual look of the series as a whole. The range of colours was reduced, the drawing round the head was modified, and the background became a deep black, as in the original photograph” (Bernd Klüser quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Munich, Galerie Bernd Klüser, Lenin by Warhol, 1987, p. 68). The use of colour within the series is more austere and markedly more symbolic than Warhol’s earlier work, and echoes the predominant colour-way of the Hammer and Sickle paintings from ten years earlier: in the Lenins Warhol restricted the background colour to either black or red – the historic colours of left-wing policies and the communist party. The solid block colour of the background instils these portraits with an extraordinary sense of gravitas and profundity, whilst the minimal brushwork on the surface reinforces Lenin’s ascetic contours with remarkable grace. As with all of Warhol's best work, the Lenin series highlights the artist's unique ability to adapt an exceptionally strong and resounding source image, but also his talent for preserving the character and distinctive look of the original photograph while simultaneously undermining the viewer's expectation through the play of colour, depth and subtle alterations.

The original photograph for the Lenin series was discovered by Klüser in Italy in 1985 and shown to Warhol shortly afterwards. Intriguingly, the photograph itself possesses an early history of doctoring. Originally taken in 1897, this image started life as a group photograph, depicting a younger Lenin surrounded by his peers. However, the image was modified in 1948 in order to remove the figures standing around Lenin, many of whom had since become ideological or political opponents of the Soviet Union during Stalin’s dominance. Although his autonomy was absolutely unquestioned, it was in the U.S.S.R leader’s own interest to doctor Soviet history in order to banish the memory of those whom might have been ‘purged’ in the violent zeal of the early years of the Soviet Union. Lenin’s premature death in 1924 invoked a cult of worship of the Bolshevik leader by his successors as a means of validating their own, often precarious, claim to power. The photograph of Lenin unearthed by Klüser is thus a fascinating historical document on several levels, and Warhol seems to have immediately recognised its immense potential as an image with a pre-existing history of mythologising and falsification.

Scheduled for exhibition in February 1987, the Lenin series is imbued with an added poignancy as the show opened only two days after Warhol’s unexpected death. In his introduction to the Lenin exhibition, Klüser recalled his own impressions of the extraordinary paintings and how proud Warhol was of the finished works: “I shall never forget the impression created by the large-format portraits when I saw them lined up together against one of the walls in the Factory. Nor will I forget how proud Andy Warhol was of this series…” (Ibid.). Ultimately, Lenin is a truly magnificent work from Warhol’s powerful final series: a masterful re-invention of communist propaganda ironically re-created by Warhol, one of the Twentieth Century’s most celebrated leaders and perpetuators of consumer culture.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London