- Andy Warhol
- Ladies and Gentlemen (Wilhelmina Ross)
- signed on the overlap
- acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above circa 1976)
Thence by descent to the present owner
Milan, Galleria Luciano Anselmino, Andy Warhol: Ladies and Gentlemen, 1976, cat. no. 3, n.p., illustrated in color
Warhol became famous in the 1960s for painting Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Onassis— all symbols of American Post-War femininity. Significant developments in Women’s Liberation contributed to a cultural shift away from the classically defined heroines of American femininity, to whom Warhol dedicated much of his early career. As an astute chronicler of the later decades of 20th century America, Warhol responded to this shift and embraced it casting Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn and Jackie Curtis as transgender characters in his satirical film titled Women in Revolt in his Factory. With both Gay Liberation and Women’s Liberation in full swing, Warhol discovered that the last bastions of glamour prevailed in the nightclubs of downtown New York City in the guise of drag queens.
In late 1974, the Italian art dealer Luciano Anselmino commissioned Warhol to paint 105 portraits of drag queens in four graduated sizes. The following year, the series was exhibited in Ferrara, Italy. Eager to continue exploring this subject matter beyond Anselmino’s original commission, Warhol more than doubled the number of portraits, working with fourteen separate models and taking over 500 Polaroids between the summer of 1974-1975. He also explored this subject in a variety of scales, from the most intimate 14 by 11 inch format to the grandest (as with the present work) measuring 50 by 40 inches, extending the subject matter beyond the realm of photographic reproduction and utilizing a more painterly approach. The bright colors and lush impasto are a departure from Warhol’s typically mechanized approach, individualizing each work within the larger series while offering the subjects a sense of purpose and identity.
The present work is a portrait of Wilhelmina Ross, a local drag queen and actress, who appears in 73 of Warhol’s portraits—more than any other drag queen from the series. She embodies the glamour that Warhol so intently sought to capture in these works. Ross’s portrait evokes Warhol’s early portrayals of ‘superstars’ in its quintessentially ‘Pop’ aesthetic, only replacing the industrial magnates, movie stars, and rock musicians of his early work with new depictions of glamour and femininity. Warhol endeavored to redefine perceptions of gender while calling attention to a significant yet marginalized community. Ladies and Gentlemen asserts the ‘drag queens’ of lower Manhattan as integral subjects within Warhol’s oeuvre of portraiture, rendering virtually anonymous individuals as equally worthy of his time and careful attention. “Drag queens are living testimony to the way women used to be to be, the way some people still want them to be, and the way some women will actually want to be. Drags are ambulatory archives of ideal movie star womanhood. They perform a documentary service, usually consecrating their lives to keeping the glittering alternative alive and available for (not-too-close) inspection” (Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, New York 1975, p. 54).
This portrait well conveys Warhol’s nuanced, artistic process while underscoring the gender play at work—she is the essence of femininity, painted with thick, long eyelashes, and deep lipstick, delicately resting her hand on her neck. Ladies and Gentlemen (Wilhelmina Ross) offers a unique scenario in which role-play becomes a part of the picture’s narrative. Together, Warhol and Ross create a new American icon that is simultaneously hero and heroine, combining painting and photography techniques to undermine the ways in which gender was constructed and perceived in mid-1970s America.