Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987) Lenin 1986

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Lot 21* ○
Andy Warhol
(American, 1928-1987)

Sold for £ 785,000 (US$ 961,993) inc. premium
Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987)

signed and dated 86 on the overlap
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas

56 by 40.5 cm.
22 1/16 by 15 15/16 in.


  • Provenance
    Galerie Klüser, Munich (no. 4592)
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

    Munich, Galerie Klüser, Lenin by Warhol, 1987, p. 47, illustrated in colour

    Andy Warhol's ability to confer greatness on the most mundane of objects, to fetishise the individual regardless of their history and to create beauty from horror through the mere application of acrylic and silkscreen ink is rightly legendary and never more thoughtfully so that with the present work. This conversion of quotidian to remarkable through the 'Warhol effect', created images that in turn became some of the most ubiquitous and quintessential depictions of the sitters. He gave this treatment to Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy in the 1960s, Chairman Mao in the 1970s, and in the 1980s, in the final months of his life, he did it to Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (1870-1924), the Russian intellectual, revolutionary and politician now better known by his alias: Lenin. The present work from 1986 is an arresting canvas based on a black and white photograph taken in 1897, in which Lenin posed amongst a group of fellow Social Democrats; later the photograph was cut down to focus solely on the figure of Lenin, and it was in this form that it was passed to Warhol. Screened onto canvas, its darker tones deepened to obsidian black, the figure highlighted in a luminous frame of sketchy white line, the already powerful source photograph is rendered even more intense. The result is a searing portrait of one of the most influential (and controversial) figures of the modern age, painted by arguably the greatest artist of the late Twentieth Century.

    The original photograph used for Lenin (1986) was actually presented to Warhol by German gallerist Bernd Klüser, who was interested in organising an exhibition with the American Pop master. Warhol was open to new ideas and inspiration, and Klüser recognised the potential of this image of the Russian revolutionary: "We had already been planning for two years to cooperate on a project which was to strike out in a new direction: instead of reproducing the stereotyped icons of everyday life in America, Warhol would be confronted with an image which went against the grain of his usual preoccupations. By virtue of both its content and formal quality, the photograph of Lenin seemed ideal for the purpose" (Bernd Klüser in: Lenin by Andy Warhol, Munich 1987, p. 68). Klüser's hunch proved correct, and his rather tatty little source photograph ultimately inspired what was to become Warhol's last great series of canvases. The show of his Lenins in Klüser's Munich gallery opened on 24th February 1987, two days after the artist's unexpected death in New York. The present work was purchased from that very gallery and has remained in the same private collection ever since.

    Even when he painted political figures such as Lenin, Warhol was never intending to make political art. Instead he was interested in the power of the image, the public façade of the popular figure. Whilst previous generations of portraitists had attempted to portray the inner workings of the soul, to capture the true personality of the sitter, Warhol was always fascinated by the artifice, the mask presented to the world at large. In the decades after his death, images of Lenin inspired wildly different responses in different communities. To Russians, he was presented as a hero of the Revolution, a founding father of the nation. In the West, however, he more commonly represented the spectre of the Communist threat. It is perhaps this spectre that we recognise most clearly in Warhol's Lenin, in this glowing, ghostly figure which emerges from the darkness. The books that rest in front of Lenin remind us that he was a great thinker and theorist, his bold pose presents him as a figure to be reckoned with. It is the eyes which draw the most attention here; highlighted in pure white and rimmed with midnight blue, they are piercing, unnervingly perceptive. The power of Lenin the man and Lenin the political symbol are evoked in this remarkable work. Lenin bears witness to the final flourishing of a career which has come to define modern art, an incomparable work of Pop genius, it is a perfect example of Andy Warhol's unique ability to sublimate a humble image into an art icon.

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Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987) Lenin 1986
Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987) Lenin 1986
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