Andy Warhol's obsession with iconic images and brand-name celebrities led him to appropriate famous paintings by other artists as a means of exploring the constructs of fame and legacy themselves. Over the years, Warhol chose subjects that allowed him to explore the duality of public perception and self-projection and his most enduring images resonate with these ideas of identity. Warhol's depictions of other artists' works, including Woman in Blue (After Matisse), offer an intriguing play upon this familiar theme and an opportunity to interpret, transform and even commodify the art of his predecessors.
In the early 1980s Warhol produced a number of works based upon the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Edvard Munch and Henri Matisse, among others. These paintings were often faithful reproductions albeit flattened by the silkscreen process and candy colors. Deceptively simple, Warhol's interpretations of these masterpieces acknowledge their status as commodities -both the works and their creators. Warhol's version of da Vinci's Mona Lisa, for example, presents her as a Pop culture phenomenon and cash cow on par with Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy. Warhol's paintings of paintings, and their source material, are instantly recognizable; they are high art, and high value, versions of the museum posters owned by millions of people around the world.
It is no surprise that this series followed the decade in which Warhol became America's pre-eminent portraitist. For Warhol, it was perhaps less important that the subjects of his "After" paintings were masterpieces than they were famous. In the 1970s and 80s, Warhol had himself become what Robert Rosenblum called "a celebrity among celebrities, and an ideal court painter to this 1970s international aristocracy that mixed, in wildly varying proportions, wealth, high fashion, and brains" (Andy Warhol Portraits, Exh. Cat., Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London, 1993, p. 144). Through portraiture, Warhol could exploit the duality of fame and identity that fascinated him. As a result, Warhol's society portraits are consistently contradictory, at times both surprisingly poignant and emotionally insightful despite their slick surfaces. His "portraits" of art historical masterpieces have a similar effect: Woman in Blue (After Matisse) is both reverential and opportunistic -a way for Warhol to paint Matisse and to engineer his own legacy by mining and questioning popular visual culture and history.