Two iconic portraits by Andy Warhol featuring Elvis Presley and Marlon Brando, two of the most important male celebrities in Warhol’s pantheon of stars will go under the hammer at Christie’s New York ,this autumn, on November 12th. Triple Elvis and Four Marlons are expected to realize in the region of $130 million.
“As such complementary examples of Warhol Superstars, – sharing the same large scale, extreme rarity and supreme quality, there is a strong possibility after the record breaking price achieved for the Bacon triptych a year ago, that our top masterpiece buyers will try to acquire both portraits and keep them as a unique pair. Many will make their own choice over favoring Elvis or Marlon. It is going to be a battle of the greatest super heroes ever, where in the end, someone could buy both. Unseen on the market for almost 40 years, these masterworks represent the greatest icons of the 20th century and Warhol’s career,” stated Brett Gorvy, Chairman and International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art.
“The sale of these two art works by Andy Warhol will allow us to continue pursuing our existing gambling offerings to the population of North-Rhine Westphalia and to meet the challenges ahead. This is why we we’ve decided to sell both masterpieces. Given the current strength of the market, especially for works by Andy Warhol, it is now the right moment to part from these works, which had been acquired for decorative purposes of our casino in Aachen in the late 1970s,” explained Lothar Dunkel, Managing Director of WestSpiel.
The arrival on the market of Triple Elvis [Ferus Type] and Four Marlons, the two greatest icons of the 20th century culture, never seen at auction before, is an exceptional and unique opportunity for collectors and institutions to acquire iconic masterpieces. In recent seasons, Christie’s has achieved unprecedented heights for contemporary art of this exceptional quality, due in large part to a surge of interest from buyers in both established and growth markets. Warhol stands among the most coveted of these artists, and Christie’s is honored to be the market authority for the artist and maintain an exclusive partnership with the Andy Warhol Foundation. Over the last decade, Christie’s has set the highest prices for works by Warhol at auction and within the private sales sector, including most recently the sale of Warhol’s Race Riot for $62.9 million, far exceeding its pre-sale estimate of $45 million, and for White Marilyn, another iconic portrait, which fetched $41 million above its pre-sale estimate of $12 – $18 million.
Triple Elvis – 1963: Standing 82 inches tall and 69 inches wide, the full-figure triple portrait of the singer turned Hollywood star is one of a series of artworks that Warhol produced for his 1963 show at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, the triple version is one of the rarest. Standing with his trademark proud stance, legs apart and his pistol recently drawn from the holster hanging from his famous hips, Andy Warhol’s rendition of Elvis Presley dominates the canvas just as the singer dominated the cultural landscape of the 1950s and 1960s. This image joins the pantheon of the Pop master’s Hollywood superstars and it was only natural that, having portrayed Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando, he should turn to Elvis as his subject matter. For Warhol, who was fascinated by popular culture, fame and celebrity, Elvis was the perfect subject.
The strong sense of presence, created by the clarity of this particular screen and the strong rendition of Elvis himself, is a poignant reminder of the enduring power of the Elvis personality. A cultural behemoth during his lifetime, even his early death in 1977 did nothing to diminish his star power, and in Triple Elvis Warhol depicts with remarkable foresight the continuing power of Elvis’s iconic image. Intriguingly, unlike in the handful of earlier images of Elvis that Warhol had produced the previous year (such as Red Elvis, 1962), in Triple Elvis, Warhol selected a publicity image for a movie, Flaming Star, directed by Don Siegel. It is therefore all the more appropriate that Elvis is shown here against a silver background, a substitute for the silver screen. Warhol was a huge fan of cinema, and so it was only natural that he took his idols from movie screen to silkscreen.
Repeated three times, the use of repetition was an important strategy for Warhol. For Triple Elvis [Ferus Type], Warhol uses it to create overlapping images that are reminiscent of a film sequence. The image refers to Elvis the King, the Hollywood product designed to be adulated. Triple Elvis [Ferus Type] pays homage to the new American cowboy and reflects the star system’s tactic of role playing and impersonation, of promoting a new image in order to add prestige or diversity to an existing image.
“It was thrilling to see the Ferus Gallery with the Elvises in the front room and the Lizes in the back. Very few people on the (West) Coast knew or cared about contemporary art, and the press for my show wasn’t too good. I always have to laugh, though, when I think of how Hollywood called Pop Art a put on! Hollywood ?? I mean when you look at the kind of movies they were making then those were supposed to be real??? ”
As well as recalling the silver of the cinema screen, the background of Triple Elvis gives the impression of opulence, and reflects the sanctified notions of Hollywood glamour. The success of this aesthetic would be evidenced when the artist had to abandon his Firehouse studio, and set up the famous Factory, which he coated with silver paint and foil. The effect was a strange, almost-mirrored space that was glamorous and at the same time futuristic. It was like being inside a gleaming machine, a concept that particularly appealed to Warhol who often stated that he wished to be a machine. Wealth, clinical practicality, glamour, science fiction — all these were referenced in the burnished walls of the Factory, and indeed in the background of Triple Elvis. This was also the look at the Ferus show, when the walls were filled top to bottom with vast edge-to-edge silver panels with the repeated image of Elvis everywhere. In the silver of Triple Elvis there is splendor as well as glamour. There is a religious feel to the silver, recalling some of the altarpieces of the Russian Orthodox Church, Byzantine mosaics, and the Catholic Church of Warhol’s own family roots, which had such a presence in the Pittsburgh of his youth. Elvis is presented as the glistening new god for a more secular age.
Four Marlons – 1966: This dramatic rendition of Marlon Brando, his dark inscrutable eyes staring out nonchalantly from underneath his peaked cap, provides an unrivalled portrayal of one of the greatest twentieth century cultural icons. Displayed here at the peak of his fame, Brando’s appearance in the 1953 film The Wild One (from which Warhol took this source image), captured a rebelliousness that, in the mind of the public at least, had subsumed the previously acquiescent American teenager and became something of an anti-hero for an entire generation of misunderstood youth. In Four Marlons, Warhol took a publicity still from the movie and rendered it four times across a vast expanse of raw canvas, creating a larger than life portrayal of Brando and his character Johnny Strabler. This work is the only one from the series with the four portraits covering the entire canvas, executed on raw and unprimed linen, the material quality of Four Marlons echoes the rough masculinity of its subject.
When compared with the classic beauty of Liz Taylor or Marilyn Monroe, the raw grittiness of Brando and The Wild One seem an unexpected departure from Warhol’s other gods and goddesses of the silver screen. Together with James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause (released two years later in 1955), The Wild One cemented an entire genre of Hollywood movies that depicted the troubled and misunderstood American teen, rebelling against the status quo and desperately searching for their place in the new post-war society. ‘Johnny,’ along with his iconic leather jacket, distinctive peaked cap and Ray-Ban sunglasses, becomes the icon for an entire generation of disaffected youth-the generation that created the culture of ‘cool.’
Warhol’s decision to immortalize Brando, alongside his other pantheons of the silver screen, was both a prophetic and a personal one. Obsessed with the movies from an early age, Warhol had long looked to Hollywood for his heroes as well as his artistic inspiration. Some of his most celebrated images are those stars who found themselves part of Warhol’s hallowed beatification-like process. So it was only natural that Warhol should turn to Marlon Brando to induct into his Hollywood Hall of Fame. Warhol’s decision to use the canvas in its natural state adds to the subversive nature of the painting, enhancing the feeling of masculinity and edginess and adding another layer to the depiction of the counter-culture that is already contained within the image itself. Unlike his other renditions of Hollywood’s biggest and brightest stars, Four Marlons becomes a fleeting glimpse of Warhol’s unique insight into the world of popular culture and a memento mori of one of its greatest icons.