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The mystifying image of Joseph Beuys appears like a saint, his hat acting as a halo above his head. Warhol has made Beuys an icon of his time as much as Marilyn or Elvis. And like the latter two idols, Beuys' tragic death, a year before Warhol's own untimely demise, has bestowed on him a martyr-like status that is strangely predicted in the meditative beauty of this portrait. Beuys, with his trademark felt hat and army waistcoat, carefully created an immediately identifiable physical image that both affirmed and transcended his art.
This portrait of Beuys reflects the mutual interest and respect both artists had for each other's work. As David Bourdon wrote, "their art was formally and thematically quite different, the artists were frequently linked by critics who perceived them as possessing an almost alchemical ability to transform ordinary objects into valuable art works." (quoted in Warhol, New York 1989, p. 385).
Warhol met Beuys in Hans Mayer's Gallery, Dusseldorf, on 18 May 1979 and immediately started making paintings with the image of this shamanic and mystically revered artist. Warhol always knew when he met a star. He was acutely aware of those people whose persona transcended what he called 'fifteen minutes of fame'.