Heart wrenchingly gazing out of the composition, flashes of red streak across the widowed face of Andy Warhol's 'Jackie'. An ominous reminder of police and ambulance sirens, the ribbons of red echo the stars and stripes that the glamorous, even heroic president, who had ushered in a tremendous force of optimism served. Printed on a clear sheet of acetate laid over a colored collage, the veiled surface of Warhol's commanding portrait is reminiscent of the sheer black shroud worn by the bereaving First Lady. Joining his pantheon of female stars, alongside Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, 'Jackie' is a tragic reminder of the fragility of life, and one of Warhol's most powerful memento mori.
Among the most iconic and poignant images Warhol ever produced, his appropriations of the mourning Jackie Kennedy simultaneously capture a sense of intensity coupled with her calm dignity. Executed in the late 1960s following John F. Kennedy's tragic assassination in the November of 1963, the composition of the picture, which tightly closes in on the head to the exclusion of the outside world, increases the sense of tender intimacy that is heightened by its scale, with the head shown nearly life-size, increasing the directness and immediacy of this absorbing image.
Working from his home at 1342 Lexington Avenue in New York on November 22 1963, Warhol and Gerald Malanga were silkscreening 'The Kiss (Bela Lugosi)' when news of Kennedy's association broke. Conflicting reports about Warhol's reaction to President Kennedy's death enhance the mystique that surrounds 'Jackie' and whether these canvases were about Jackie Kennedy herself or more about the media coverage of the event itself. As the artist's friend and biographer, David Bourdon, writes: 'Warhol devised his powerful portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy from news photographs taken before and after President John F. Kennedy's assassination....By cropping in on Mrs. Kennedy's face, Warhol emphasized the heavy emotional toll during those tragic closing days in November. The so-called Jackie Portraits, far from displaying any indifference on Warhol's part to the assassination, clearly reveal how struck he was by her courage during the ordeal" (D. Bourdon, 'Warhol', New York, 1989, p. 181).