Lot 52
  • 52

Andy Warhol

800,000 - 1,800,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Andy Warhol
  • Portrait of a Young Woman (After Cranach)
  • acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
  • 127.3 by 106.7cm.; 50 1/8 by 42in.
  • Executed in 1985.


The Estate of Andy Warhol, New York

Private Collection, USA

Sale: Sotheby’s, London, Contemporary Art, 21 October 1999, Lot 55

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner 


Cologne, Edition Schellmann, Andy Warhol: Art from Art, 1994, p. 62, no. 44, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate. Condition: This work is in very good condition. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultra-violet light.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Singularly defining Andy Warhol’s illustrious corpus of art history paintings, Portrait of a Young Woman (After Cranach) takes for its subject the titular painting by the German Renaissance master Lucas Cranach the Elder and reimagines it with faultless execution in dazzling reds and vibrant yellows. Having built a career transforming the quotidian into mass manufactured high art, in the 1980s Warhol turned his gaze towards the transformation of art history. The series Art from Art, which depicts cropped images of iconic Old Master and Modern paintings, formed a crucial art historical thread in the important last decade of Warhol’s life. An unmitigated masterpiece and the most resolved work from this definitive series, Portrait of a Young Woman (After Cranach) also engages with the Warholian trope of female beauty that punctuates the artist’s most celebrated works; from his mesmerising renderings of Elizabeth Taylor to his legendary paintings of the Mona Lisa and Marilyn Monroe. In other works from this series Warhol appropriated imagery from the fathers of the Renaissance Paolo Ucello, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael through to the grands hommes of the Twentieth Century, Giorgio de Chirico, Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch and Pablo Picasso. By lifting these historical masterpieces from the context of the art historical canon, cropping and distorting them, Warhol dismantles their auratic quality and imbues them with a fetishistic, commercialised aesthetic. Just as Warhol’s earlier silkscreens playfully highlighted and satirically commented on the Western consumption of consumer brands, Portrait of a Young Woman (After Cranach) makes a brand icon out of an art historical one.

The present work is based on the intimately scaled Portrait of a Young Woman by Lucas Cranach the Elder which adorns the walls of Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Minutely rendered, Princess Sibylle of Cleves, the bride of John Frederick of Saxony, pensively stands in an intricately painted dress at a window ledge which opens onto expansive rolling countryside. The perfect archetype of Warhol’s art history paintings, the present work crops and condenses Cranach’s original, and in doing so concentrates on the extraordinary beauty of the sitter’s face and hat. Imitating the essence of each brushstroke, details are simplified to slick, clean lines and colours are amplified to include dazzling ruby reds, purples and greens, which contribute to give the work the celebrated commercialised, fetishistic aura of its maker. We are left to simply admire the sumptuous ripples of pure pigment and lushly applied paint that caress the sitter’s face. Thus, Warhol innovatively transforms an illustrious art historical icon into a veritable Warholian icon. Where Princess Sibylle became the epitome of beauty in Cranach’s oeuvre, in Portrait of a Young Woman (After Cranach) Princess Sibylle becomes the epitome of Warholian beauty; a natural conclusion to his earlier society portraits and paintings of Marilyn Monroe.

Warhol’s brilliant mastery of colour in Portrait of a Young Woman (After Cranach) truly sets it apart from the other works in this important series. The extraordinary conflation of crimson red and deep, opulent violet – a striking combination rarely seen within Warhol’s oeuvre – immediately enthrals and beguiles the viewer with its bold chromatic statement. When compared to the blue version of Portrait of a Young Woman (After Cranach), Warhol’s daring chromatic explorations become all the more evident. The artist has taken the risky decision of placing a sumptuous claret curtain up against the woman’s vivid red hat, reflecting a similar virtuosity of colour that Rothko demonstrated in his mesmeric, red Seagram Murals, held in the Tate Collection, London. As such, Portrait of a Young Woman (After Cranach) is perhaps one of the most nuanced and sensitive explorations of colour in Warhol’s oeuvre.

Following in an esteemed lineage of artist’s fascinated by Cranach’s jewel-like painting (notably Pablo Picasso’s Bust of a woman after Cranach the Younger), and art history as a wider whole, the practice of appropriating masterpieces was endemic amongst Warhol’s fellow Pop painters. A tactic inspired by Marcel Duchamp's notorious L.H.O.O.Q., in which Duchamp famously drew a moustache on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa, the Pop artists saw culturally resonant icons such as Cranach’s Portrait of a Young Woman as free for manipulation and translation into their signature styles. Roy Lichtenstein’s Rouen Cathedral (Seen at Five Different Times of the Day) is a particularly acute example of this. Here he reproduced Claude Monet’s paintings of Rouen Cathedral, enlarged them and effaced the luxurious texture of Monet’s impasto by replicating the painting with his signature Ben-Day dots. As with Warhol’s Day-Glo silkscreens, Lichtenstein’s Ben-Day alterations absolved the originals of their auratic quality and injected them with the fetishistic sheen of Pop art.

Warhol first began to appropriate imagery from art history in 1963 with his monochrome masterpiece Thirty Are Better Than One, 1963, which depicts a repeating black and white image of arguably the most famous painting in art history; the Mona Lisa. Warhol’s early consumption of art history was more a comment on the reaction to the fame and media frenzy surrounding the display of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, than a direct comment on art history itself. When Warhol returned to the subject two decades later however, he approached it with much more distance and clarity, taking the history of art itself as his enigmatic subject.

An apogee in this celebrated series, Portrait of a Young Woman (After Cranach) sits alongside some of the artist’s most important late works. Amongst them is the monumental homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s infamous Last Supper, which represents something of a grand finale to a career in which subversion and irony are the ultimate keynotes. Other seminal works in this iconic series include Warhol’s technicolour take on Edvard Munch’s epoch-defining painting The Scream, his stark monochrome translations of Munch’s Eva Mudocci, and his enthralling renditions of Sandro Botticelli’s divine Goddess in The Birth of Venus. In Portrait of a Young Woman (After Cranach) Cranach’s historical eminence is firmly transported into the realm of Warholian Pop culture – her mesmerising face appearing in tantalising colour and luxurious brushwork and thus joins the pantheon of beautiful Warholian females that precede her.