Executed shortly after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, Andy Warhol's striking images of the widowed Jacqueline Kennedy are among the most iconic and poignant canvases the artist produced. Joining his pantheon of female stars, alongside Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie, while simultaneously capturing a sense of intensity coupled with a calm dignity, is a tragic reminder of the fragility of life, and one of Warhol's most powerful memento mori.
Capturing the heartfelt sympathies of millions of people, Jackie Kennedy, unlike Warhol's other tragic stars, drifts away from the posturing pop pin-ups in favour of a more subdued palette and heightened sense of intimacy. Here, the muted blue and black of the background and Jackie's hair combine to create a simple, somber image of bereavement. The composition, tightly closing in on the widow's grieving head to the exclusion of the outside world, increases the sense of tender intimacy that is heightened by the painting's scale in this absorbing image. "Warhol devised his powerful portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy from news photographs taken before and after President John F. Kennedy's assassination,' Warhol's friend and biographer, David Bourdon explained. '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). 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.
However, varying reports about Warhol's reaction to President Kennedy's death enhance the mystique that surrounded these canvases and inform that they were simultaneously influenced by Jacqueline Kennedy herself as well as the media coverage of the event. The first significant television news of its kind, the assassination of JFK was covered for seventy hours by all three major American television networks. Scenes of an emotionally stunned Jackie Kennedy were distributed around the world, resonating with a somber national mood, which profoundly affected Warhol. "I'd been thrilled having Kennedy as president,' Warhol expressed. 'He was handsome, young, smart - but it didn't bother me that much that he was dead. What bothered me was the way the television and radios were programming everybody to feel so sad...' (A. Warhol, quoted in P. Hackett, Popism: The Warhol Sixties, New York, 1980, p. 60). The portrait of Jackie is Warhol's attempt to deal with this sadness, immortalising her with his silkscreens. More than any other artist of his time, Warhol brilliantly captured the drama of the sixties, producing some of the most iconic images to emerge form the period. Jackie documents the style icon of the era, a fresh-faced beauty radiating as the ultimate contemporary icon of glamour, moments before the world as she knew it came to an end.