This complete set of four signed screen prints from 1978 is a limited edition of 150 from Andy Warhol’s Muhammad Ali series, part of his Athletes portfolio. The set comprises all the four portraits that Warhol took of “the greatest” athlete of all time, the boxer Muhammad Ali.
In 1978, Warhol was asked by his friend and art collector Richard Weisman to create a portfolio of prints depicting the greatest athletes of the time. And so, Warhol did. The resulting portfolio, Athletes, includes, amongst others, representations of the footballer Pelé, the tennis player Chris Evert, and the golf player Jack Nicklaus. While Warhol made a portrait for each of these sportsmen, something about Ali struck him, leading him to create an entire set of four images that would better capture the resilient and strong character of the sportsman. As Warhol’s choice of immortalising the greatness of the sportsman through many images suggests, it is only by looking at the whole set in its entirety that Ali’s personality, as well as his commitment to boxing, can be fully appreciated.
In the first print, Ali is captured against a bright pink background as he looks to the left, offering his side profile to the viewer. In the next image, he has turned to look downward, while the background has shifted to a dark and rich cobalt blue. In the third portrait, the most unusual of the series, Warhol decided to depict only Ali’s fist, held against his chest, colouring the hand red as if to evoke the boxing gloves used by the boxer. In the last, and perhaps most important, portrait, Ali’s stare is fixed on the camera, while his closed fist is now close to his face as if the athlete was preparing for a fight.