Andy Warhol's striking images of Jacqueline Kennedy are among the most iconic and poignant canvases he ever produced. Working from 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).
The present work comes from a series of canvases using Warhol's favored 20 by 16 inch shape and screened onto a background of cerulean blue. Featuring a photograph of a smiling First Lady taken as she arrived at Dallas airport in the hours before her husband's death, this particular image of Jackie Kennedy has particular poignancy. His decision to crop the original source photograph and bring her smiling face closer to the viewer makes this work all the more moving. This particular series of single Jackie's features images screened onto a variety of blue, white, brown and green backgrounds but the dark blue of the hues of this particular canvas adds to the overall sense of ominous foreboding that prevails throughout this canvas.
With Jackie, Warhol adapted the formula he had already tested on Campbell's Soup and Coca-Cola for use on a celebrity, but in this case one whose image had unprecedented emotional strength. The President's glamorous widow had the intense sympathies of millions, whereas the other celebrities he had depicted were seen as merely posturing pinups. While reminiscent of his earlier works, Jackie creates a complex fusion between emotion and image, between Pop and popularity. Standing on the brink of his "Death and Disaster" series, Warhol's portrait of Jackie encapsulates the pervasive glare of celebrity in the midst of personal tragedy.