Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Collection of Celeste and Armand Bartos
Andy Warhol (1928-1987)


Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
signed and dated 'ANDY WARHOL 64' (on the overlap of the upper left and lower right panels)
synthetic polymer and silkscreen inks on canvas in four parts
each: 24 x 24 in. (60.9 x 60.9 cm.)
overall: 48 x 48 in. (121.9 x 121.9 cm.)
Painted in 1964.
Upper right and lower left panels:
OK Harris, New York
Acquired form the above by the present owner, 1974

Upper left and lower right panels:
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Clinton H. Gates, Kansas City
Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa 1986
G. Frei and N. Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings and Sculptures 1964-1969, vol. 02A, New York, 2004, p. 302 (Leo Castelli numbers (LC91 and LC165) listed) (upper left and lower right panels).
Kansas City, Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City Collects: a Selection of Works of Art Privately Owned in the Greater Kansas City Area, January-February 1965, no. 60 (upper left and lower right panels).
Pasadena Art Museum; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Eindhoven, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum; Museé d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; London, Tate Gallery; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art Andy Warhol, May 1970-June 1971, no. 79 (upper left and lower right panels).

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Lot Essay

"They are so goddamn beautiful. And so simple. And their glamour was so intense. What killed you, killed you, was the grainy black-and-white of the stems. That grainy look...was killer, and still is. I think it still hasn't been acknowledged that the whole critical debate should have been over at that moment. Because these Flowers paintings had all the Kantian principles that Greenberg was pushing...The Flowers resolved all [those] formal issues...but with a realistic, not an abstract, image. And why not? Who bought it as a picture of flowers anyway? It was about the mediation...That's why we reach for the word 'genius.' Genius is what goes, 'That's not a problem.' He sees clearly. He just does it'"--Peter Schjeldahl.
In Andy Warhol's iconic Flowers, large, brightly-colored blossoms hover over a variegated pattern of green and black grass. Along with Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans and Marilyns, Flowers ranks among the artist's most recognizable motifs, like emblems of his enduring legacy. Conceived in preparation for his first exhibit at the renowned Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, the gallery owner recalled, "It was well received. Very well received....That show was all sold out. It was very easy, that was my first show of Andy's and my first experience with Andy" (L. Castelli, quoted in P. Smith, Warhol: Conversations about the Artist, London, 1988, p. 209). Rendered in high-contrast, Warhol saturates his imagery with the same glamour and melodrama that characterized the legendary year of 1964.

Warhol derived the work's imagery from the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography. The same summer, Henry Geldzahler, the contemporary art curator at the Metropolitan Museum, remembers saying to Warhol, "Enough death and disaster, Andy, it's time again for life. 'What do you mean,' [Andy] said. I serendipitously picked a magazine off the floor and flipped it to a two-page advertisement with a color photograph of flowers" (H. Geldzahler, Making it New: Essays, Interviews and Talks, New York, 1994, p. 39). In his signature deadpan style, Warhol used the very same photograph--an illustration for an article on Kodak color processors--as his source imagery.

After cropping the photograph and rotating one of its blossoms to achieve his desired square format, Warhol heightened the image's contrast to such an extent that it was entirely unrecognizable as a hibiscus flower. Flat, planar shapes and vivid outlines characterized the final format, and Warhol transferred the design onto canvas in fluorescent paint, making each blossom appear to float over a grainy pattern of black and neon green. The silkscreened Flowers capture Warhol's increasing interest in mass-produced, assembly-line construction--in fact, these 1964 paintings coincided with the artist's first Factory on 47th Street and 3rd Avenue, which opened that spring.
The square format of Flowers particularly suited Warhol because its regular shape allowed for unlimited hanging positions and arrangements. "I like painting on a square," he later said, "because you don't have to decide whether it should be longer-longer or shorter-shorter or longer-shorter: it's just a square" (A. Warhol quoted in D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 191). The symmetrical format, with its non-hierarchical composition, emphasized the imagery as a type of abstract patterning. In fact, Warhol often reveled in the purely abstract nature of his art. The artist had, after all, developed his career under the shadow of Abstract Expressionism, whose heady blend of bravura and emotion-laden gestures Warhol detested. In response to their elevated poetic vision and emotive gestural abstraction, Warhol created Flowers, his most abstract image of the decade--with utterly recognizable flower motifs. The artist emphasizes the subject matter's banal and decorative nature by his use of mass-reproduced, machine-like systems of creation. Warhol even embraces the technical mistakes that further abstract his image; for instance, in the blue Flowers, the grass green paint bleeds into the petal area so it appears slightly off-register due to an uneven distribution of ink in the screen-printing process.

In Flowers, Warhol engages with the established canon of still-life painting, aligning himself with the romantic renderings of flowers by painters like Claude Monet or Vincent Van Gogh. However, Warhol transformed the age-old genre with his color-blocked blossoms, utterly removed from nature. With an aerial viewpoint, he collapses space into one flat plane--making no distinction between horizon or ground. His style is adamantly the artist's hand, and treats his traditional subject matter with the same detachment as his commercial imagery--in this way, he distills his reputation as a creative wunderkind on the level of the master painters before him. Gerard Malanga, Warhol's longtime assistant who worked on the Flowers series, recognized the irony of the situation: "With Flowers, Andy was just trying a different subject matter. In a funny way, he was kind of repeating the history of art. It was like, now we're doing my Flower period! Like Monet's Water Lilies, Van Gogh's Flowers, the genre" (G. Malanga quoted in D. Dalton, A Year in the Life of Andy Warhol, London, 2003, p. 74).

At the same time that Warhol engaged art history, he created a work that distilled the era's captivating virulence as it foreshadowed the late 1960s Flower Power movement: "We were the roots, the dark roots of that whole movement. None of us were hippies or flower children....We were into black leather and vinyl and whips and S&M and shooting up and speed. There was nothing flower power about that. So when Warhol and that whole scene made Flowers, it reflected the urban, dark, death side of that whole movement....It was always that juxtaposition that appears in his art again and again that I particularly love" (R. Cutrone, quoted in J. O'Connor and B. Liu, Unseen Warhol, New York, 1996, p. 61). Warhol spent much of his career striving to capture on canvas the fleeting nature of both fame and life and with Flowers he found the perfect vehicle for doing so.

The bright colors and cheerful imagery of Flowers belie a more sinister tone that lingered from Warhol's preceding Death and Disaster series. Colorful, vibrant and full of life, the hibiscus flowers featured traditionally denote a fleeting, transience of life. As if elaborating on his memento mori motifs of electric chairs, car crashes, Warhol underpins Flowers with the same morbid tone, heralding his later skull paintings and aged self-portraits. "What is incredible about the best of the flower paintings is that they present a distillation of much of the strength of Warhol's art--the flash of beauty that suddenly becomes tragic under the viewer's gaze. The garish and brilliantly colored Flowers always gravitate toward the surrounding blackness and finally end up in a sea of morbidity. No matter how much one wishes these Flowers to remain beautiful they perish under one's gaze, as if haunted by death" (G. Malanga, quoted in op. cit., p.74).

The work remains a pioneering example of appropriation art, and paved the way for important distinctions of authorship. Despite Warhol's lengthy manipulation of the original source photograph, Patricia Caulfield, the author of the photo that appeared in Modern Photography, brought a lawsuit against Warhol in 1966. After a long, costly court case, Warhol eventually agreed to give her several paintings and a percentage of all profits from future reproductions of the painting as prints: "Andy realized that he had to be very careful about appropriating for the fear of being sued again. He opted to start taking his own photographs. His entry into photography vis-a-vis his creation of silkscreen paintings was done out of necessity" (G. Malanga, quoted in The Andy Warhol Museum (ed.), Andy Warhol Photography, Pittsburgh, 1999 p. 116). Not only did this set precedents for appropriation of imagery, it stimulated Warhol's exciting delve into photography that he would continue for the rest of his career.

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