Warhol's vivacious Ladies And Gentlemen series depicts well known individuals among the gay and trans scene in New York during the 1970s. Out of the 14 models depicted in the series, 13 of their identities are known: Marsha P. Johnson, Alphanso Panell, Iris, Wilhelmina Ross, Broadway, Easha McCleary, Helen/Harry Morales, Ivette, Kim, Lurdes, Michele Long, Monique and Vicki Peters.
Though the initial printed portraits in the series are monochromatic black and white, Warhol overlays colour to add dimension and vibrancy to his portraits. Not dissimilar to his Mick Jagger series, which was created in the same year, this colour draws attention to the models' features and the bold makeup of drag.
Despite being commissioned nearly $1 million for this series, Warhol only paid his models $50-100 for their extensive sittings. Marsha P. Johnson, one of the models in the series, commented on the irony of her portrait being sold for thousands of dollars while she struggled to pay rent.
Luciano Anselmino, an Italian art dealer and owner of Galleria Il Fauno in Turin, was no stranger to Warhol in 1975. Before commissioning Warhol for Ladies And Gentlemen, Anselmino had patronised an edition of his Man Ray portrait to be completed by the father of Pop.
Commissioned in response to the death of Candy Darling, the first trans woman known to take hormones, Ladies And Gentlemen is a flamboyant celebration of this eclectic community.
Warhol was famously cheap, and refused to work more than absolutely necessary for the right price. However, he almost doubled the number of canvases commissioned by Anselmino, which attests to his attachment to the subjects of this series.
Warhol's fascination with the trans sitters of Ladies And Gentlemen is owed to his ongoing fascination with queer self-fashioning and drag. Six years after the creation of this series, Warhol began to photograph himself in drag, signalling the influence of these prodigies of self-invention.
Marsha P. Johnson is now regarded as one of the key figures in the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. Johnson actively campaigned for LGBTQ+ rights, co-founding the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R) with Sylvia Rivera, until her untimely death in 1992.
Much like the portraits of his other 'Superstars', like Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor, and Martha Graham, the trans women represented by Warhol in this series were posed with celebrity glamour. Warhol hardly ever photographed his subjects naturally, opting instead to model them to best reveal their star appeal.
In preparation for this series, Warhol snapped over 500 Polaroid photographs of his 14 subjects. This intimate process in the studio encouraged conversation between Warhol and his sitters, allowing the artist to discover more about their lives and unique experiences, all of which shine through in his complete portraits.
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