What To Collect Now - Prints & Editions Report

The Great

While Andy Warhol is better known for portraits of his contemporaries, he also created this print series depicting Alexander the Great in 1983. Commissioned by the MoMA, Warhol’s series also homages art dealer, Alexander Iolas, whose own distinctive Greek features earnt him the moniker ‘the Great’.

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Meaning & Analysis

Warhol’s Alexander the Great interestingly combines an ancient historical figure with Pop visuals normally reserved for contemporary celebrities. The signed prints come in a limited edition size of 25 and were commissioned by art dealer Alexander Iolas to correspond with the exhibition of ancient art and artefacts ‘The Search for Alexander’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art

Iolas was nicknamed Alexander the Great amongst his peers in the New York art scene due to his distinct Greek features and it is likely that Warhol produced the prints of Alexander the Great as a tribute to Iolas who helped propel Warhol into the art world by championing the artist during the early stages of his artistic career.

The prints in the collection are inspired by the image of Alexander the Great, the ancient king of Macedon. The prints are based on a Hellenistic bronze bust of Alexander the Great and the bust is rendered in Warhol’s signature Pop Art style against bright and bold coloured backdrops.

10 Facts About Andy Warhol's Alexander The Great

Alexander The Great (F. & S. II.291) by Andy Warhol

Alexander The Great (F. & S. II.291) © Andy Warhol 1982

1. The series was commissioned by the art dealer Alexander Iolas.

Born Constantinos Coutsoudis, Iolas broke ties with his family in Greece to pursue a career as a ballet dancer. After moving to the United States, Iolas began to fraternise with other dancers and figureheads in the arts, eventually turning his own attention to the art world. Though his name fell into oblivion after his death in 1987, Iolas is now regarded as one of the ”inventors” of the contemporary art world.

Warhol met Iolas back in 1945, when Warhol was beginning work as a commercial illustrator at the young age of 17. From there on, the two enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with one another, leading to fame, success and wealth. In this series, Warhol was commissioned to produce portraits of Alexander the Great - a powerful Macedonian king - for this other great Alexander. The series is an homage to one of Warhol's longest serving proponents and friends.

Alexander The Great by Andy Warhol

Image © Bonhams / Alexander The Great © Andy Warhol 1982

2. Warhol turned the historical figure into a Warholian Pop icon.

Alexander the Great lived from 356 BC - 323 BC, making him the oldest ’celebrity’ to be depicted by Warhol. Rendered in distinctly Warholian bold colours and graphic outlines, the Ancient Greek king was transformed into a Warhol ’Superstar’ of the 1980s.

A black and white portrait of Alexander Iolas

Photo © http://www.cityport, via Wikimedia Commons

3. Warhol created the series to express his gratitude to Iolas.

Iolas played a transformative role in the lives of many modern artists: René Magritte, Max Ernst, Ed Ruscha, and Joseph Beuys, to name a few. It would seem that Iolas had a trained and gifted eye for talent in art, and he propelled his protégés with passion. Since meeting Warhol in 1945, Iolas supported his exhibitions and patronised limited prints and series. Alexander The Great was Warhol's expression of gratitude towards Iolas, and conveyed his great legacy in modern art.

Alexander The Great Bronze Head

Alexander The Great Bronze Head circa. 231-249 CE