As the famous film critic, Hollis Alpert wrote, "Monroe was a tease... but Bardot was the real thing!"
French actress Brigitte Bardot--the original sex kitten and 1960s icon of liberated sexuality--announced her retirement from making films in 1974. Aged 39 and still at the height of her career, Bardot or 'BB' as she was known in her native France was as beautiful and as famous as ever, her blond hair, heavy eyeliner and pouting lips an instantly recognizable trademark of her free-spirited energy and sexual allure. As he had done with his two other portraits of 1960s screen goddesses, Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor, Warhol chose this moment of Bardot's descent from the glare of the spotlight to commemorate and idolize her by painting her portrait. Warhol had painted his portraits of Marilyn immediately after her suicide and even those he had made of Liz Taylor were by his own admission painted at a time "when she was so sick (that) everybody said she was going to die" (Warhol cited in David Bourdon, Andy Warhol, New York,1989, p.142). In painting Bardot's portrait at the time of her retirement and what many people thought would be a retreat from public life, Warhol was perhaps unconsciously repeating this process. Certainly in his portrait of Bardot he knowingly applied the same formal techniques to her striking features as those he used in his 1964 and 1965 portraits of Marilyn and Liz, using a cropped frontal viewpoint and highlighting the eyes hair and lips with garish cosmetic colors. The fundamental difference between this portrait made in 1974 and his portraits of Marilyn and Liz made nearly ten years before is that here, in this work, Bardot's image has not been transformed into a cold, impersonal and possibly dead, Pop icon or commodity of mass consumerist culture. Warhol appears to be celebrating Bardot as a living and breathing icon--a healthy and active woman.
Warhol had known Bardot since the mid-1960s. According to his assistant at the Factory, Gerard Malanga, Warhol's first film Sleep had originated from a plan Warhol had had, long before he ever owned a camera or knew Bardot, of making a film of her sleeping. Warhol met Bardot for the first time in the spring of 1967 at the Cannes Film Festival where he had been invited to show his film Chelsea Girls during the Festival's 'Critic's Week'. Warhol had left for France with a large entourage of Factory friends and colleagues only to find on arrival that the festival appeared to have censored the film and refused it a screening. Bitterly disappointed Warhol decided to remain in Cannes where he attempted to drum up support for Chelsea Girls enlisting pleas from other celebrities and drawing up a petition. Bardot, who was at this time married to photographer and Warhol collector Gunter Sachs, was one of the foremost French celebrities to come to his aid at this time, though Chelsea Girls remained unscreened.
Surprisingly, considering Bardot's iconic status as a 1960s idol, it was not until 1974 that Warhol was to make her portrait. The present work is one of only eight paintings that Warhol made of her. Filling the frame of the picture with her image in a direct and open way, Warhol lets Bardot's famous features dominate the canvas, her doe-like eyes and childish beauty emerging from the fur-like folds of her fluorescent colored hair to command the picture plane and arrest the attention of the viewer. More sensitive in his treatment of Bardot than in his more garish and brutal treatments of Liz Taylor and Marilyn, Warhol has used a comparatively subdued cosmetic color scheme so as to ensure that Bardot's beauty and allure transcends her transformation into a Warhol Pop icon. Perhaps also because Bardot needed and used little make-up, her image responds well to Warhol's neon colored overpainted additions. Using a straightforward and personal image of her -- albeit one that looks like an album cover -- and remaining faithful to the simplicity of her beauty, Warhol has accurately created in this work a portrait of Bardot as both individual and phenomenon.