Sotheby’s to Auction Iconic Warhol Self-Portrait

An iconic and rare Self Portrait by Andy Warhol, executed in 1986 just prior to his unexpected death the following year, will be offered by Sotheby’s on the evening of 12 May 2010 in a sale of Contemporary Art. The painting is from Warhol’s final series of Self Portraits – widely acknowledged as the most important of his career. The monumental canvas, measuring 108 x 108 in., is one of only a handful executed by the artist and one of only two that are known to be privately held. Estimated to sell for $10/15 million, the painting will be shown in Hong Kong and London prior to its exhibition and sale in New York.

This superb “Self Portrait” is a rare example of an important theme in the artist’s oeuvre: the complicated dichotomy between the public and private persona. From the outset of his Pop Art career, Warhol’s use of popular media images of celebrities in his 1962-63 portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Elizabeth Taylor was a vehicle for exploring themes as diverse as individual mortality and the universality of popular culture. Almost immediately, Warhol became a public celebrity in his own right and self-portraiture joined his subject matter in 1963. Content and painter were never more intricately linked in the history of self portraiture, and his own persona became the most potent avenue for exploring celebrity, vulnerability and death.

The series of 1986 portraits would be the artist’s last, painted just prior to his death in February 1987. While the artist created Self Portraits throughout his career, the majority date from the 1960s and 1970s. When Warhol created the 1986 series, it had been quite some time since he had dealt with his own iconic image. Previous 1960s Self-Portraits had been based on strips of images taken in a photo booth, while the 1986 works are based on polaroids which he had used throughout the 1970s as source images. Wearing his signature “fright” wig, Warhol’s self-image overwhelms the inky black canvas surface, confronting the viewer with a direct and haunting gaze. While many of the large-format 1986 Self-Portraits measure 80 x 80 inches, this monumental painting is one of only a handful on the scale of 108 x 108 inches, each with a different color ground than the current purple Self-Portrait. They are in the collection of The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh (yellow and blue versions), the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas (green version) and an American private collection (red version). These Self Portraits have an elegiac and mystical intensity and are the penultimate statement of the artist’s contradictory nature as a flamboyantly public personality who was ultimately enigmatic as a private individual.

image: Andy Warhol, “Self Portrait”, 1986. 108 x 108 inches. Est. $10/15 million. Photo: Sotheby’s