ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
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This lot has been imported from outside of the UK … Read more PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT ASIAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)

Three Self-Portraits

ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
Three Self-Portraits
(i) stamped with the Estate of Andy Warhol and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. stamps and numbered 'PA40.006' (on the overlap and the stretcher)
(ii) stamped with the Estate of Andy Warhol and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. stamps and numbered 'PA40.012' (on the overlap and the stretcher)
(iii) stamped with the Estate of Andy Warhol and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. stamps and numbered 'PA40.011' (on the overlap and the stretcher)
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, in three parts
each: 12 x 12in. (30.5 x 30.5cm.)
Executed in 1986
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York.
Private Collection.
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s London, 5 February 2009, lot 13.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Special notice
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord Interim Acting Head of Department

Lot Essay

A true landmark in the history of art, Andy Warhol’s 1986 self-portrait stands among his most iconic images. Created just months before his death, it takes its place alongside masterworks by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso and other artists who took their own aging visage as their last great subject. Adorned with a so-called ‘fright wig’, the artist’s skull-like face looms large amid a deep black void, haunting and enigmatic. In Three Self-Portraits, a trio of heads confronts the viewer, vividly rendered in green, silver and yellow. The work is notable for its triptych structure: like Francis Bacon, who made similar use of the format for his own late self-portraits, the artist stages a bold encounter with his mortality, meeting our gaze three times with his own penetrating stare. At the same time, the image is laced with dark humour, subversion and role play, befitting an artist whose identity and persona remained permanently shrouded in intrigue. It is a final flourish from one of the twentieth century’s greatest cultural giants: an image that continues to keep the world guessing.

Warhol had long been fascinated by death. His early ‘Death and Disaster’ paintings confronted society’s incessant consumption of morbid images—car crashes, nuclear disasters, suicides—and the effects of their daily circulation via mass media. In 1968, after his near-fatal shooting by Valerie Solanas, he became painfully aware of life’s fragility. Warhol would spend much of the ensuing decade engrossed in images of skulls, knives and guns, as if haunted by this event. Confronting the viewer as a memento mori, the 1986 self-portrait represents his most personal response to the theme. ‘I paint pictures of myself to remind myself I’m still around’, he said (A. Warhol, quoted in V. Bockris, The Life and Death of Andy Warhol, London 1989, p. 480). The work was curiously prophetic: on 22 February 1987, Warhol passed away in hospital while recovering from gallbladder surgery. As the critic John Caldwell wrote of the portrait in the weeks before the artist’s death, ‘we are being given a rare chance to witness the aging of an icon’ (J. Caldwell, ‘A New Andy Warhol at the Carnegie’, Carnegie Magazine, January-February 1987, p. 9).

Aside from its poignancy, the work also captures something of Warhol’s mercurial persona. His biographer David Bourdon would later explain that many perceived the image’s elusive nature ‘as a metaphor for the multiplicity of ways in which the artist was perceived’ (D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York 1989, p. 402). This is particularly true of group compositions such as the present, whose different coloured iterations seem to play out the very idea of a changing face. He is at once martyr, trickster and deity, as bold as the Byzantine icons of his childhood and as legendary as the Marilyns, Elvises and Coca Cola bottles that populated his art. By this stage, the artist—already more famous than many of his celebrity muses—had cloaked himself in so many disguises that it was almost impossible to separate fact from fiction. ‘The hair belonged to one of dozens of wigs,’ explained Bourdon, ‘the skin had been dermatologically transformed and constantly tautened through the use of astringents, and the sunken cheeks had been smoothed out with collagen injections’ (D. Bourdon, ibid.). The peroxide wig, straight from Warhol’s own personal collection, was simply one more layer of costume to a man whose entire life and practice revolved around the idea of public image.

Many of Warhol’s earlier self-portraits had toyed with this idea. His first series, from 1963, presented the artist in a raincoat and dark glasses, like a criminal on the run. His next series, completed the following year, took the form of a series of ‘mugshots’, vacant and expressionless. In his series of 1966-1967—the last before the present work—Warhol appears to conceal his face with his hand, dissolving into an abstract blur behind it. Twenty years later, the idea of being able to disappear completely had taken on a new significance. Though illuminated like a prisoner under interrogation, here the artist emerges from the void like a disembodied spectre, as if already consigned to the depths of our imagination. ‘I never understood why when you died, you didn’t just vanish’, he explained. ‘… I always thought I’d like my own tombstone to be blank. No epitaph, and no name. Well, actually, I’d like it to say “figment”’ (A. Warhol, America, New York 1985, pp. 126-129). Here, lit up in a demonic blaze, the artist performs his final sleight of hand: a last, inscrutable revelation before disappearing into the darkness.

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