Lot 130
  • 130

Andy Warhol

600,000 - 800,000 USD
732,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Andy Warhol
  • Skull
  • signed on the overlap
  • acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas


Luciano Anselmino, Milan
Private Collection, Italy (acquired from the above in 1978)
Sotheby's, London, 23 October 2001, Lot 522
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Catalogue Note

On June 3, 1968, the most iconic artist of the 20th century was shot at point blank range by Valerie Solanas. Those three shots, only one of which hit, proved to be a catalyst for a fundamental shift in Andy Warhol’s oeuvre. His fascination with the aesthetics of American consumerism was replaced by a more melancholy dialectic, replete with symbols of violence and death. Suddenly he was less concerned with America and Americans, and focused on more universal and personal themes, as well as his own place within the art historical canon.

Skulls have served as a memento mori in all artistic disciplines, from Shakespeare to Pieter Claesz to Stanley Kubrick. By employing them in his art, Warhol not only co-opted an easily legible symbol with obvious personal significance, but also placed himself within an artistic tradition that stretches back hundreds of years. There is thus an evident desire to personalize and historicize his work, however his fashion of representation is rather at odds with his subject matter. Although the flattening of the subject does not alleviate the power of the hollow eye-socket, or the grimace of death, Skull is not a wholly macabre piece. The vivacity of the colors belies the symbolic weight of a skull as a symbol of death, and the nature of shadows, that is, the ability to lend life to things that are lifeless, adds another dimension to what might otherwise be a staid reminder of mortality.

However, it should not be forgotten that even before the attempt on his life, Warhol fixated on death. When he started making portraits of Elizabeth Taylor it was while she was life-threateningly ill with pneumonia; his Marilyns were prompted by her tragic death. Warhol saw death as inherent to, and perhaps to an extent a part of, celebrity, and the commodification of the image after death as a removal of its power. Through repetition, the ghoulish and morbid elements of his portraits of Marilyn, his Electric Chairs, or indeed his Skull series, started to evaporate. Skull represents the culmination of a tradition that stretches back through all of Warhol’s work, a simultaneous disavowal of and profound respect for death.