NEW YORK, NY.-
On November 15, Christies
will offer Andy Warhol's Sixty Last Suppers, 1986 (estimate: in the region of $50 million) as a highlight of its Evening Sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art. Sixty Last Suppers is an outstanding example from the artists great final painting series. Executed just a year before Warhols death in February 1987, this monumental canvas poignantly illustrates the themes of religion and loss that were so instrumental to his work. This canvas is being offered for its first time at auction.
Alex Rotter, Chairman of Post-War and Contemporary Art, New York, remarked: Christies Sixty Last Suppers is the unequivocal masterpiece from Warhols late period. Standing in front of this momentous canvas, the viewer is fully immersed by Leonardos vision, but seen through the eyes of Andy Warhol. Many paintings are described as a tour-de-force, this is Warhols.
The idea for a group of works based on Leonardos Renaissance masterpiece was proposed to Warhol in 1984 by Milan-based gallerist Alexander Iolas. Warhol leapt at the idea of putting his own stamp on one of the best-known images in the world, and produced an exhaustive series of variations some freehand, some showing outlines, some, as in this example, using a photostat of the oil painting as the source image for a silkscreen. In all, Warhol would make over 100 different renditions of the Last Supper, 22 of which were displayed in 1986 in a space opposite the Santa Maria delle Grazie church, home of Leonardos original. Viewed by an estimated 30,000 people, the works took Milan by storm.
At the same time, and underscoring the Pop process of manufacture, the doubled image was a reminder that Warhols works were not originals in the traditional sense. This interrogation of originality versus reproduction had come up again and again in his art. The Dollar Bills were not dollar bills. The Brillo Boxes were not Brillo boxes, exactly. By 1986, of course, Leonardos Last Supper had become not only part of the art historical canon, but part of popular culture.
As a deeply religious man, the image of The Last Supper had featured prominently in the background of Warhols life: his mothers Bible featured a reproduction of the image; another copy apparently hung in the familys kitchen. It is perhaps no coincidence that in creating this particular Last Supper variation, Warhol worked from a print of an old oil copy of the Renaissance painting a source already removed from the original, and already a proto-Pop artefact.
In the early 1980s, religious iconography would feature more prominently in Warhols art as he began to confront his mortality. Sixty Last Suppers marked the culmination of a process of acceptance: the final image of communion and forgiveness. To some critics, Warhols artistic appropriation of the iconography of advertising and pop culture represented the substitution, in the modern age, of capitalism for religion. But in Sixty Last Suppers, Warhol both celebrated Christianity and injected new life into religious art, charging it with contemporary currency.