Campbell's Soup Cans (sometimes referred to as 32 Campbell's Soup Cans), a work of art by American Pop Artist Andy Warhol was produced between November 1961 and March or April 1962. Warhol.was a commercial illustrator before embarking on painting. Campbell's Soup Cans was shown on July 9, 1962 in Warhol's first one-man gallery exhibition in the Ferus Gallery of Los Angeles, California curated by Irving Blum.
The piece consists of thirty-two canvases, each measuring 20 inches (51 cm) in height × 16 inches (41 cm) in width and each consisting of a painting of a Campbell's Soup can—one of each of the canned soup varieties the company offered at the time. The non-painterly works were produced by a screen printing process and depict imagery deriving from popular culture and belong to the pop art movement.
The exhibition marked the West Coast debut of pop art. The subject matter initially caused offense, in part for its affront to the technique and philosophy of the earlier art movement of abstract expressionism. Warhol's motives as an artist were questioned. Warhol's association with the subject led to his name becoming synonymous with the Campbell's Soup Can paintings.
Warhol produced a wide variety of art works depicting Campbell's Soup cans during three distinct phases of his career, and he produced other works using a variety of images from the world of commerce and mass media. Today, the Campbell's Soup cans theme is generally used in reference to the original set of paintings as well as the later Warhol drawings and paintings depicting Campbell's Soup cans. Because of the eventual popularity of the entire series of similarly themed works, Warhol's reputation grew to the point where he was not only the most-renowned American pop art artist, but also the highest-priced living American artist.
Warhol sent Blum thirty-two 20-by-16-inch (510 mm × 410 mm) canvases of Campbell's Soup can portraits, each representing a particular variety of the Campbell's Soup flavors available at the time. A postcard dated June 26, 1962 sent by from Irving Blum states " 32 ptgs arrived safely and look beautiful. strongly advise maintaining a low price level during initial exposure here". The thirty-two canvases are very similar: each is a realistic depiction of the iconic, mostly red and white Campbell's Soup can silkscreened onto a white background. The canvases have minor variation in the lettering of the variety names. Most of the letterings are painted in red letters. Four varieties have black lettering: Clam Chowder has parenthetical black lettering below the variety name that said (Manhattan Style), which means that the soup is tomato- and broth-based instead of the cream-based New England style; Beef has parenthetical black lettering below the variety name that says (With Vegetables and Barley); Scotch Broth has parenthetical black lettering below the variety name that said (A Hearty Soup); and Minestrone had black parenthetical lettering saying (Italian-Style Vegetable Soup). There are two varieties with red lettered parenthetical labels: Beef Broth (Bouillon) and Consommé (Beef). The font sizes only vary slightly in the variety names. However, there are a few notable stylistic font differences. Old-fashioned Tomato Rice is the only variety with lower case script. This lower case script appears to be from a slightly different font than the other variety name letters. There are other stylistic differences. Old-fashioned Tomato Rice has the word Soup depicted lower on the can, in place of a portion of ornamental starlike symbols at the bottom that the other 31 varieties have. Also, Cheddar Cheese has two banner-like addenda. In the middle-left, a small golden banner says "New!", and a middle center golden banner says "Great As A Sauce Too!".
Several anecdotal stories supposedly explain why Warhol chose Campbell's Soup cans as the focal point of his pop art. One reason is that he needed a new subject after he abandoned comic strips, a move taken in part due to his respect for the refined work of Roy Lichtenstein. According to Ted Carey - one of Warhol's commercial art assistants in the late 1950s - it was Muriel Latow who suggested the idea for both the soup cans and Warhol's early U.S. dollar paintings.
Muriel Latow was then an aspiring interior decorator, and owner of the Latow Art Gallery in the East 60s in Manhattan. She told Warhol that he should paint "Something you see every day and something that everybody would recognize. Something like a can of Campbell's Soup." Ted Carey, who was there at the time, said that Warhol responded by exclaiming: "Oh that sounds fabulous." A $50 check dated November 23, 1961 in the archive of the Andy Warhol Museum confirms the story. According to Carey, Warhol went to a supermarket the following day and bought a case of "all the soups", which Carey said he saw when he stopped by Warhol's apartment the next day. When the art critic G. R. Swenson asked Warhol in 1963 why he painted soup cans, the artist replied, "I used to drink it, I used to have the same lunch every day, for twenty years."
Another account of Latow's influence on Warhol holds that she asked him what he loved most, and because he replied "money" she suggested that he paint U.S. dollar bills. According to this story, Latow later advised that in addition to painting money he should paint something else very simple, such as Campbell's Soup cans.
By 1970, Warhol established the record auction price for a painting by a living American artist with a $60,000 sale of Big Campbell's Soup Can with Torn Label (Vegetable Beef) (1962) in a sale at Parke-Bernet, the preeminent American auction house of the day (later acquired by Sotheby's). This record was broken a few months later by his rival for the artworld's attention and approval, Lichtenstein, who sold a depiction of a giant brush stroke, Big Painting No. 6 (1965) for $75,000.
In May 2006, Warhol's Small Torn Campbell Soup Can (Pepper Pot) (1962) sold for $11,776,000 and set the current auction world record for a painting from the Campbell Soup Can series. The painting was purchased for the collection of Eli Broad, a man who once set the record for the largest credit card transaction when he purchased Lichtenstein's "I ... I'm Sorry" for $2.5 million with an American Express card. The $11.8 million Warhol sale was part of the Christie's Sales of Impressionist, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary Art for the Spring Season of 2006 that totaled $438,768,924.
The broad variety of work produced using a semi-mechanized process with many collaborators, Warhol's popularity, the value of his works, and the diversity of works across various media and genre have created a need for the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board to certify the authenticity of works by Warhol. On April 7, 2016, seven Campbell's Soup Cans prints were stolen from the Springfield Art Museum. The FBI announced a $25,000 reward for information about the stolen art pieces.
Warhol's production of Campbell's Soup can works underwent three distinct phases. The first took place in 1962, during which he created realistic images, and produced numerous pencil drawings of the subject. In 1965, Warhol revisited the theme while arbitrarily replacing the original red and white colors with a wider variety of hues. In the late 1970s, he again returned to the soup cans while inverting and reversing the images. The best-remembered Warhol Campbell's Soup can works are from the first phase. Warhol is further regarded for his iconic serial celebrity silkscreens of such people as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor, produced during his 1962–1964 silkscreening phase. His most commonly repeated painting subjects are Taylor, Monroe, Presley, Jackie Kennedy and similar celebrities.
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