One of the most influential and well-loved artists of the 20th century, Andy Warhol continues to inspire fans young and old. With numerous retrospectives of his work happening all over the world he also remains one of the most sought after artists on the market. Here we take a look at the top ten prices paid for works by the father of Pop Art at auction, from $105 million for his Silver Car Crash in 2013 to $53 million for Double Elvis in 2019.
Taken from his Death and Disaster series, the top price realised for Warhol at auction was achieved in 2013 for Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster). An undeniably powerful work, this monumental painting bears witness to the circumstances of disaster and reflects on the long tradition of history painting in art from Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa to Picasso’s Guernica. Here Warhol transforms a tragic scene, repeating it over and over again until it resembles frames from a film or animation, its black and white surface turned silvery for posterity. The work was made in 1963, a seminal – and somewhat melancholic – year for Warhol in which he also produced Suicides, Race Riots and Silver Electric Chair.
Having turned Marilyn Monroe’s iconic features into innumerable silkscreen prints it was only natural that Warhol should take Elvis as his subject in this 1963 painting. Repeating the figure of the singer in his dynamic cowboy stance as he draws his gun, the work takes on a cinematic quality that elevates the star’s image from pop icon to demigod. At the same time the background colour recalls the silver screen of Hollywood as well as the baroque ornaments of the catholic church Warhol grew up in, surrounded by painted icons to be venerated and reproduced for the masses.
Another significant work from Warhol’s Death and Disaster series, Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I) made headlines when it sold for US$71,720,000 at Christie’s in 2007, a spectacular price for the time. Here again repetition plays a key part in transforming a tragic scene into a classic work of Pop Art which uses the industrial technique of silkscreening to reproduce a newsreel image over and over until the viewer becomes numb to its meaning. As Warhol said in an interview at the time, “When you see a gruesome image over and over again, it really doesn’t have any effect”, an idea that has worrying echoes in the 24 hour news culture of our present day.
With this work Warhol demonstrated once again his enduring fascination with fame and celebrity, picking as his subject the talented actor Marlon Brando in the film The Wild One. Unlike previous silkscreen portraits, with Four Marlons Warhol chose to print Brando’s figure onto unprimed canvas, eschewing bright overlays or silver grounds to let the raw magnetism of the actor’s expression, pose and leathers do the talking. Painted in 1966 the work represents Warhol at the height of his powers, using the silkscreen technique to borrow from the worlds of advertising and Hollywood to come up with a whole new style of painting that broke from the canon as dictated by critic Clement Greenberg. Here Warhol was striking a new path, one that would eventually earn him his own fame and fortune, equalling and even perhaps surpassing that of his icons.
Men In Her Life, which sold for over $63 million in New York in 2010, is an homage to both film star Elizabeth Taylor and the American public’s fascination with her life and loves. Using an image taken from LIFE magazine, Warhol portrays Taylor with her third husband Mike Todd as well as another couple, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. Though it seems like an innocent image of romance and friendship, the photograph actually foreshadows a disaster and a complicated love affair which caused Taylor to be vilified by the media and the public. Once again Warhol repeats his central motif to liken the images to the frames of a film, bringing movement to a still. At the same time he retains the original black and white of the photograph, contrary to what we expect from his brightly coloured canvases from the same year.
Perhaps one of Warhol’s more politically overt and well known paintings, Race Riot reproduces a photograph from a civil rights march in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. What was supposed to be a peaceful protest against the state’s segregation laws by the city’s African American community soon turned ugly when the police brought out attack dogs and fire hoses to disperse the crowd. Making front page news all over the world, photographs of the riot by Charles Moore forced president John F Kennedy to make historic changes to the law and inspired Warhol to reproduce them, sharing in his way this portrayal of injustice and ensuring their place in art history.
Painted in the last year of Warhol’s life, Sixty Last Suppers is testament to the artist’s enduring love for the old masters. That year Warhol also produced The Last Supper (Pink) and The Camouflage Last Supper which along with the current work were based on reproductions of a 19th century copy of the original painting by Leonardo da Vinci. By applying his silkscreen technique to a 16th century masterpiece and reproducing it into a monumental grid of repeated images Warhol was seen to be entering into a dialogue with the Western art historical canon before him, as well as referencing his own roots in the catholic church and perhaps questioning the value of a single image over many.
As well as Campbell’s Soup Cans and Brillo Boxes, Warhol was particularly fond of reproducing Coca Cola’s iconic branding. From the swirly writing of the logo to the red and white labels and elegant glass bottles, Coke held a timeless appeal for the father of Pop Art who saw it as a great leveller thanks to its all-round popularity and ubiquity. In his 1975 book, The Philosophy Of Andy Warhol (From A to B & Back Again) he wrote, “What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.” This 1962 work strips the brand of its colour, offering a simple outline of the bottle and logo with the words ‘trademark registered’ clearly delineated, perhaps in a tongue in cheek reference to his own disregard for copyright.
In 1962 JFK visited France on a state visit during which his wife Jackie, who was adored by the press and public, managed to persuade the French president to allow the Mona Lisa to go on an unprecedented tour of the United States. The next year the painting crossed the Atlantic accompanied by a high-security convoy and extensive media coverage. As a result, thousands of Americans queued to see the masterpiece at its first stop, the National Gallery of Art in Washington before it travelled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where Warhol saw it. He began work on the silkscreen version the following spring, using a reproduction taken from a brochure by the museum. With this, he made three screens: one was a full-length version of the work, while another showed the Mona Lisa cropped to a bust, and the third was just a detail of the figure’s crossed hands. In this painting, which sold for US$56,165,000, all three come together in a vibrant display of colour and composition.
Painted in the same year as Triple Elvis this work appeared to be slightly less popular on the market, achieving $30million less than its counterpart when it was sold in New York in 2019. The work is no less iconic however, with Elvis’s classic features staring out at the viewer in determination, his gunslinger persona representing an homage to the American romance with the West and the enduring figure of the cowboy. Here the original publicity shot from the 1960 Western movie Flaming Star is doubled and reproduced to life-size resulting in an imposing work that remains a classic work in this luminous artist’s oeuvre.