- Andy Warhol
- Large Campbell’s Soup Can
- signed, dated 65 and inscribed To George and Gordon, Billy… to George on the reverse; signed, dated 65 and inscribed Billy on the overlap
- acrylic, silkscreen ink and silver paint on canvas
- 91.4 by 61cm.; 36 by 24in.
- Executed in 1964.
Blum Helman Gallery, New York
Thomas Segal Gallery, Boston
Barbara Jacobson, Beverly Hills (acquired from the above in 1985)
Sotheby’s, New York, Contemporary Art Evening Auction, 15 May 2007, Lot 45
Private Collection (acquired from the above sale)
Sotheby’s, London, Contemporary Art Evening Auction, 1 July 2008, Lot 46 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Rainer Crone, Andy Warhol: Das Bildnerische Werk Andy Warhols, Berlin 1976, n.p., no. 861 (text)
George Frei and Neil Printz, Eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings and Sculptures, Volume 2B, 1964-1969, New York 2004, p. 192, no. 1845, illustrated in colour
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As subject matter, Campbell’s Soup Cans were perfectly suited to Warhol’s oeuvre. His artistry was built on an innate understanding of American post-war consumerism and he craved subjects that would be instantly recognisable to any observer of the work. In Warhol’s America, these soup cans were so ubiquitous as to be entirely unremarkable, displayed on shelves in every grocery store and supermarket in the country. To then paint and exhibit them was to elevate them into a new context, to ennoble them, and to demand that they experience renewed aesthetic consideration. Of course, having originally trained as a commercial artist, there is no doubt that Warhol would have held special appreciation for the effective logo. Moreover, there was a suggestion that the soup held some personal significance for the artist, some shred of childhood memory: “Many an afternoon at lunchtime Mom would open a can of Campbell’s for me, because that’s all we could afford, I love it to this day” (Andy Warhol quoted in: Victor Bockris, The Life and Death of Andy Warhol, London 1998, p. 144). However, Warhol loved them most for their universal appeal. As the years passed and his images became more widely lauded, they gained a quasi-religious status. They were the everyday icons of his overtly consumerist worldview and have since become that motif most synonymous with his oeuvre.
Quite uniquely, Campbell’s Soup Company themselves played an important role in the present work’s inception. When Warhol first made these paintings in the early 1960s, the company were wary of his appropriation of their corporate identity. However, they soon realised that his wildly popular works gave their most important product a boost from an unexpected realm. Thus, in October 1964, they commissioned the artist to make a 3 by 2 foot painting of a tomato soup can for Oliver G. Willits, upon his retirement as Chairman of the Campbell’s Board of Directors. It was the largest soup can that Warhol had undertaken thus far, and he ended up making six works in the series, of which the present work is one. One example is still owned by Campbell’s, while others now reside in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts.
Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup series was first displayed at Walter Hopps and Irving Blum’s Ferus Gallery, in Los Angeles, in July 1962. He exhibited 32 canvases, each measuring 20 by 16 inches: one for each flavour of soup manufactured by the food conglomerate at that time. The revolutionary paintings were displayed on small white shelves that ran along the perimeter of the gallery in a manner that seemed to intimate the shelves of a grocery store. They received an incendiary reception and are all now housed as a collective in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Through this exhibition, and its unabashed idolatry of the everyday object, Warhol established his own artistic language, and positioned himself alongside Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and Tom Wesselmann at the very forefront of the Pop movement.
In pioneering his own brand of Pop art, Warhol moved to entirely distance himself from the fetishism of artistic gesture that had defined Abstract Expressionism. Thus, in depictive terms, the artist was interested above all else in mechanised means of mass-production. In the Ferus works he had used a handmade stencil projected onto canvas, so that each of his 32 canvases used an identical motif. However, by the time of the present works production, he had begun to use silkscreen printing in order to divorce his own hand from his practice even further. It was silkscreen ink that imbued his works with their idiosyncratic sense of flatness, and it was through the highly productive capabilities of the medium that Warhol’s studio earned its name – ‘The Factory’. The present work makes use of three screens: one for the red of the banner and ‘TOMATO’ heading, one for the gold of the medallion and the fleur de lys trim, and one for the thick black outlines. That Warhol still hand-painted the silver of the lid and rim using metal paint and a stencil identifies this canvas as one of the earlier examples of this specific medium, which would go on to define this artist’s style.
Large Campbell’s Soup Can is a masterful dedication to one of the most enduring motifs of the Twentieth Century. It was Warhol himself who best summed up his undying devotion to this subject matter: “I should have just done the Campbell’s Soups and kept on doing them” (Andy Warhol quoted in: Annette Michelson, Ed., Andy Warhol, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2001, p. 124).