The commission for Warhol’s print came from Alexander Iolas, who was nicknamed Alexander the Great. The image bears a striking resemblance to de Chirico’s portrait of Iolas from his years as a young dancer. The two portraits depict noble and elegant Greek faces, with the same heavy brow and lion-like manes gazing off to some unknown challenge.
Warhol and Iolas met in New York in 1945 when the young illustrator was just 17. By 1952, Iolas, then the director of the Hugo Gallery, gave Warhol his first gallery show: ‘Fifteen Drawings based on the writings of Truman Capote”. Soon Iolas owned several galleries in New York, Paris, Milan, Rome and Athens, and Warhol became a celebrated household name, and so began the era of the mega gallery and the celebrity artist. The two shared in their success and established themselves as indispensable figures in New York’s blossoming art scene. Both men recognised the power of personality, and the power of appearance. They ran within the same social circles, and both navigated high and low society with ease. In Bob Colacello’s words “In many ways Iolas and Andy were two of a kind, they shared the same high camp sensibility, an awareness and delight of the absurdity of existence”. It was fitting that Iolas was the commissioner of this portrait of Alexander the Great, which in a sense constitutes one of Warhol’s greatest explorations into the power of the portrait and the effect of self-image: something both the artist and Iolas were acutely aware of.
The Alexander the Great screenprint was not the only collaboration between the artist and gallerist. Iolas can be seen in a 1972 diptych portrait, where he fades and appears through smudges of silver acrylic paint. Again, in 1974, Warhol immortalised Iolas in a portrait, highlighted with accents of royal blue; Iolas, shrouded with a sense of grace, stares straight at the viewer. The two continued to work together closely until their deaths, only months apart in 1987. Just as Iolas hosted Warhol’s first gallery exhibition, he would also host his last, commissioning a series of works, coincidentally but somewhat poetically based on Da Vinci’s the Last Supper. In Adrian Dannatt’s words “Andy worked with many other dealers, but Iolas had a special place.”
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