Painted by Andy Warhol specifically for his debut at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1964, this diptych from his Flowers series represents an early Pop art icon as well as Warhol's first major commercial success. Using his classic Pop appropriation strategy, Warhol took the image for Flowers from a photo by Patricia Caulfield in a magazine article. The idea for the series came from Henry Geldzahler, who suggested Warhol take a break from his dramatic Death & Disaster series. Geldzahler gestured to a photo of flowers in Modern Photography Magazine, which Warhold in his deadpan style seized as his subject.
A brief legal dispute over the photo's copyright ensued, which Warhol eventually settled. Gerard Malanga, who worked with Warhold, described how this episode prompted Warhol to begin photographing his own subjects. Yet the ultimate appearance of Warhol's Flowers is very different from the original image. He cropped it to achieve the desired square format, as characterstic of his sharp eye for graphic impact. In order for the flowers to fit within his new composition he had to rotate one of the original blossoms, as evidenced by the slight disruption in the background grass pattern. Warhol silk-screened the image on square canvases ranging from two to six-foot panels, reserving special placement in the installation for the two foot Flowers. Originally hung in a large grid format, a unique departure from Warhol's earlier shows, their arrangement underscored the image's commercial seriality and the banal subject matter by overwhelming viewers with its mural-like scale. A photograph taken by Billy Name-Linich of the 1964 Castelli exhibition reveals that the present works were two of the original 28 selected to hang on a floating wall that covered the gallery windows facing East 77th Street. Of the Flowers unveiling, Castelli recalls, "It was well received. Very well received...That show was all sold out. It was very easy. And they were very expensive, too. And so that was my first show of Andy's and my first experience with Andy" (Interview with Patrick S. Smith, Warhol: Conversations about the Artist, London, 1988, p. 209).
Warhol's Flowers played on the history of flower painting, creating a bold and ironic twist on what was usually a humble decorative genre. Further manipulating the original image, Warhol heightened the color palette by increasing the contrast, a decision that flattened out the flower's texture and creates the impression of cut-outs upon an abstract field. The result was a unique composition that allowed for unlimited hanging positions and arrangements. With the introduction of the two foot format, Warhol experimented with less natural flower tones and began using fluorescent Day-Glo colors. These bright blossoms explode like firecrackers against their dark background: putting the "pop" in Pop art. While these colors are more common in the later series with a black and white background, the use of fluorescent paint is more rare in two foot Flowers with traditional black and green backgrounds.
While virtually all the walls at the original Castelli exhibit were covered with a field of pop blossoms, the last room included one of Warhol's portraits of Jackie Kennedy based on a photo taken shortly after her husband's assassination. This led some observers to associate the flower-covered gallery with a funeral parlor.