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Commissioned in 1983 by New York Gallerists and Environmental Activists, Andy Warhol’s Endangered Animals series draws our attention to the plight of species around the world. Enduringly relevant, this series, with its eye-catching and gaudy colouring, unsettles our familiarity with the species at risk.

Andy Warhol Endangered Species for sale

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Meaning & Analysis

10 screenprints from 1983, Warhol’s Endangered Species portfolio was a project first commissioned by New York Gallerists and Environmental Activists. The series was intended to bring attention to the world’s endangered animals. It features the Bald Eagle, Black Rhinoceros, African Elephant, Orangutan, Grévy’s Zebra, Bighorn Ram, Giant Panda, Pine Barrens Tree Frog, San Francisco Silverspot Butterfly and the Siberian Tiger.

Warhol’s artwork refreshes the viewer’s perspective by bringing us into a new relationship with the object and its image. Supermarket products, news media, film stars and advertisements are all given the artist’s signature treatment: casting everyday subjects in kaleidoscopic colour and repeating images machine-like and in series. The artist’s Endangered Species is no different. The psychedelic luminous colours and energetic lines animate his subject. The threatened animals are represented in the same way as the artist’s film and TV stars: as cultural icons that are impossible to ignore.

Warhol understood the power of the image and his art. He donated a number of these works to raise funds and awareness. The artist was a lifelong lover of animals and nature. Nature and wildlife can be found throughout his work. His early illustrations featured cats and dogs, most notably in the children’s book Cats Name(d) Sam and One Blue Pussy created in collaboration with his mother Julia Warhola and published in 1954. Legend has it that the artist and his mother lived in a New York townhouse surrounded by cats that were all named Sam, apart from one called Hester. Warhol went on to own dogs and paint dog portraits. His love for animals can be seen in the way he photographed and painted these canine companions. Animals and nature appear in other later significant bodies of work, including Flowers and the Cow and Fish wallpaper pieces.

10 Facts About Warhol's Endangered Species

Grevy’s Zebra (F. & S. II.300) by Andy Warhol

Grevy’s Zebra (F. & S. II.300) © Andy Warhol 1983

1. The primary subject of the series are the animals listed on the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Warhol's Endangered Species series was executed 10 years after the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was signed into law. Under the presidency of Nixon, the 1973 Act listed the species threatened by extinction, and prioritised conservation for these particular species. Warhol represented the following animals from this list: African Elephant, Bighorn Ram, Black Rhinoceros, Siberian Tiger, Sea Turtle, San Francisco Silver Spot Butterfly, Pine Barrens Tree Frog, Bald Eagle, Orangutang, Grevy's Zebra, and Giant Panda.

African Elephant (F. & S. II.293) by Andy Warhol

African Elephant (F. & S. II.293) © Andy Warhol 1983

2. The portfolio was commissioned by art dealers Ronald and Frayda Feldman.

Risk-taking New York gallerists and dealers Ronald and Frayda Feldman collaborated with Warhol throughout the 1980s. During this intensive period of partnership, they worked together on some of Warhol's most acclaimed series: Ten Portraits Of Jews Of The Twentieth Century, Myths, Ads, Moonwalk, and Endangered Species. The Feldmans were also well-known philanthropists, and Endangered Species was born out of a conversation with Warhol about their shared passion in environmental conservation.

Siberian Tiger (F. & S. II.297) by Andy Warhol

Siberian Tiger (F. & S. II.297) © Andy Warhol 1983

3. The series is a rare instance in which Warhol gives animals his 'superstar' treatment.

With his archetypal method of screen printing, followed by retouching by hand, Warhol rendered each of these animals with the same attentiveness to detail as his human subjects. By focusing on their portraits alone, and representing them in such eye-catching colour, Warhol thus transformed these endangered animals into his so-called 'superstars'. In doing so, he shone a spotlight on these threatened species, showing them to be just as worthy of our attention as Marilyn Monroe or Liz Taylor.

Butterfly From Vanishing Animals by Andy Warhol

Butterfly From Vanishing Animals © Andy Warhol 1986 © Christie's

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