Lot 38
  • 38

Andy Warhol

3,000,000 - 4,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Andy Warhol
  • Martinson Coffee
  • stamped with the artist's signature and authenticated by Frederick Hughes on the overlap
  • silkscreen ink and pencil on canvas
  • 27 1/2 x 21 in. 70 x 53.3 cm.
  • Executed in June - July 1962.


Private Collection, New York


Georg Frei and Neil Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings and Sculptures 1961-1963, Vol. 01, New York, 2004, cat. no. 214, p. 191, illustrated in color


This painting is in excellent condition. Please contact the Contemporary Art department at 212-606-7254 for the condition report prepared by Terrence Mahon. The canvas is not framed.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Andy Warhol’s Martinson Coffee from 1962 is one of a rare group of only four fully realized early paintings from this series and marks the very beginnings of the artistic enterprise that gave rise to the Pop art movement.  Like few others before him, Warhol succeeded in subverting the heroic ideals of Modernist abstract painting and added fuel to the 20th century art’s most prolonged and fruitful conceptual dialogue.  Continuing in the tradition of Marcel Duchamp, Contemporary art would question what constitutes “high” versus “low” culture, and Warhol was the master at challenging the distinction between the fine art destined for museums as opposed to the commercial advertising and media imagery that pervades our daily lives.  A mastermind of iconography, Warhol appropriated a myriad of everyday imagery and consumer goods as the subject matter for his paintings.  In the process, he revolutionized American art of the time by restoring representation and objective imagery to painting in the startling guise of common quotidian objects such as Campbell’s Soup Cans, Air Mail Stamps and the present subject, the Martinson Coffee can.  The present work is the most impressive from the series in that it is the most repetitious, displaying four columns of eight labels each in tight composition.  This nascent seriality is evocative of the ultimate multiplicity achieved in the artist’s monumental early silkscreened paintings including 100 Cans (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo), 200 One Dollar Bills, and 210 Coca Cola Bottles(Daros Collection) all executed in the same year.

While Martinson Coffee exploits the manipulation of serial imagery that silkscreen allowed, its execution was simpler and more instinctive than the artist’s later works.  Warhol used two screens for Martinson Coffee: one for the red background color of the label and the other for the black outline and lettering of the super-imposed design.  Faint pencil lines are visible, laying the framework for the composition and for the placement of the screens.  The red silhouette of the background screen exposes a negative registration where Warhol then screened the label’s lettering and black contours.  Evidence of the artist’s hand is subtly present, primarily in the lettering, showing hand-touched applications of white paint.  Applied over a faintly gray primer, these careful touches sharpen the silhouettes of the letters, emphasizing the logo or brand name, in this case, Martinson Coffee. In his early experiments with the great innovation for which he is most famous – the silkscreen as a viable form of image-making in the realm of Fine Art – the traces of the artist’s hand give an immediacy and genuine authenticity to Warhol’s work.  These intimate signs of the artist’s hand will largely disappear from his later silkscreen works which he eventually produced with the aid of assistants in a fashion that led Warhol’s studio to be famously christened the “Factory”.  As time went on Warhol favored the mass-production possibilities of the silkscreen to distance himself from the traditional role of the artist and to create works of repeated imagery.

The early paintings by Warhol all encompass his obsession with all things commercial and as with his Campbell’s Soup Cans which brought him public and critical notoriety, the present work elevates an ordinary supermarket product to the realm of High Art.  Warhol’s theme was consistent with his graphic means, allowing him to adopt the more distanced role of observer and translator of imagery – a reflection of society rather than an interpreter.  Questions of artistic originality and mechanical reproduction abounded in the early 1960s when Warhol introduced the silkscreen process.  In the composition of the coffee can labels, Warhol broke down the design to its constituent layers.  The origins of Martinson coffee date back to 1898, when Joe Martinson began selling his special roast from a push cart on the streets ofNew York City.  He eventually progressed to delivering his popular coffee in a Rolls Royce.  Some hypothesize that the expression ‘A Cup of Joe’ is derived from the ‘Joe’ of Joe Martinson, claiming that the neighborhood of the company was always saturated with the aroma of roasting coffee.  Housed in a historic 1905 warehouse at375 Greenwich Street, the Martinson Coffee factory was not far from where Warhol might often wander and collect scraps of the cardboard packaging on his way.  If Warhol was aware of Joe Martinson’s history of American business success and the ubiquitous use of his name with ‘A Cup of Joe’, he would have appreciated such rich references to commercialism and popular culture in his chosen imagery.

Warhol’s art was clearly a reaction to the work of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg whose works used everyday motifs and materials from the urban world to provoke debate between representation and perception.  With his relentlessly repeating compositions, the artist simultaneously intensified and dulled the originally intended impact and meaning of his images whether celebrity portraits, soup cans, dollar bills, or coffee can labels.  Warhol gave such images new iconic status by changing their context and turning them into art objects.  His intention was to limit the range of artistic intervention, reducing the creative act to a choice of image and color. Throughout his career Warhol made wry commentary on the debate between originality and reproduction, the role of the artist, and the modern condition of repetitive imagery.  The present work - a rare and jewel-like example from an exceptional series and an important moment in the artist’s oeuvre – is an all-encompassing presentation of Warhol’s earliest work at its finest.