Andy Warhol's purple Self Portrait sold at Sotheby's in 2010 for $32.6 million.

21 Days of Andy Warhol is Sotheby’s three-week celebration of the essential 20th century artist with one-a-day stories and videos about Warhol’s origins, influences, inspirations, all leading up to the sale of important Warhol pieces in our Contemporary Art Evening auction 13 November.


NEW YORK
- To this day, no other self-portrait of Andy Warhol has commanded so high a sum at auction as his 1986 purple Self-Portrait, which depicts the artist gazing at the viewer and dressed in his signature spiky fright wig. Shocks of hair stand straight up in a seemingly electrified, gravity-defying cowlick as Warhol’s purple-toned head materializes out of an impenetrable blackness. The monumental, 9-by-9-foot canvas sold at Sotheby's on May 12, 2010, for $32,562,500 – more than double the high estimate of $15 million. This landmark sale not only counts as the highest price paid for a Warhol self-portrait, it also set a still-standing record for a work of Warhol's from the 1980s.

As reported in the press at the time, the seller was the acclaimed fashion designer Tom Ford. Ford had purchased the Self-Portrait in 1998 from Anthony d'Offay, the British art collector and curator. It was d'Offay who commissioned Warhol to create the so-called Fright Wig self-portrait series. For all five of the paintings, Warhol chose to work at the same looming 9-by-9-foot scale. Other canvases in the series are now housed in prominent museum collections: the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth owns a green Self-Portrait, and the Andy Warhol Museum collection contains a blue and a yellow one. There is also a red Self-Portrait in a private collection. "Because of its scale, and because of how many were in museums, it really captured people's attention," Sotheby's senior specialist Leslie Prouty recalls of the purple Self-Portrait at auction. The image was chosen to appear on the cover of Sotheby's auction catalogue. "It led to quite the bidding battle," she says.


Tobias Meyer talks about Self-Portrait by Andy Warhol during a press preview April 30, 2010 at Sotheby's New York. AFP PHOTO /TIMOTHY A. CLARY.

Warhol started exploring self-portraiture in 1963. The timing was likely no accident; by '63 Warhol had begun to accrue the star power that regularly attracted him to other portrait subjects such as Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. In other words, he'd become as much a celebrity worthy of Warholian investigation as anyone else. That said, his earliest self-portraits seem only to flirt with a persona under development. By the time Warhol the mature artist was executing the purple Self-Portrait of 1986, he's grown to be a larger-than-life figure, to be sure, but also one who's capable of introspection and deeper expressions of vulnerability.

"This 1980s self-portrait is very haunting and, in retrospect, became quite important because, of course, Andy passed away relatively shortly thereafter," Prouty points out. (Warhol died in February 1987.) "There's always been this underlying current about mortality" in Warhol's art. "So that certainly makes this a deeply moving image for his body of work."

Tomorrow: Andy Warhol, the Death and Disaster Series and Prestige

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