"Monroe was a tease... but Bardot was the real thing!"
Such was Brigitte Bardot's iconic status in the 1960s and early 1970s that it was almost inevitable that Warhol would one day have to paint her. Not only was she the original sex-kitten and the personification of 1960s liberated sexuality, she was also an icon of how a young radicalised post-1968 France saw itself. Indeed in the late 1960s Bardot's television show had even opened with images of her naked wrapped in the French tricolour. This was an identification of Bardot with Marianne - the national emblem of France - that was in fact formalised in 1970 by the sculptor Alain Gurdon who used the sex-goddess of Saint Tropez as the model for a bust of the Revolutionary French heroine and symbol of the Republic.
In 1974, at the age of 39 and still at the height of her career, Bardot or 'BB' as she was known in France, was as beautiful and as famous as ever. Her blond hair, heavy eyeliner and pouting lips were an instantly recognisable trademark of her free-spirited energy and sexual allure all over the world. It was at this point, that she shocked many people by announcing her retirement. With typical directness she announced, 'I've made 48 films of which only five were good. The rest are not worth anything. I will not make another.'
Significantly, and as with his two other portraits of 1960s screen goddesses, Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor, it was at this moment of Bardot's descent from the glare of the spotlight that Warhol commemorated and iconised her by painting her portrait. Warhol had painted his portraits of Marilyn immediately after her suicide and even those he had made of Liz Taylor were by his own admission painted at a time "when she was so sick (that) everybody said she was going to die" (Warhol quoted in D. Bourdon, Andy Warhol, New York 1989, p. 142). In painting Bardot's portrait at the time of her retirement and what many people thought would be a retreat from public life, Warhol was perhaps unconsciously repeating this process. Certainly in his portrait of Bardot he knowingly applied the same formal techniques to her striking features as those he used in his 1964 and 1965 portraits of Marilyn and Liz, using a cropped frontal viewpoint and highlighting the eyes and lips with garish cosmetic colours.
The fundamental difference between this portrait made in 1974 and his portraits of Marilyn and Liz made nearly ten years before is that here, in this work, Bardot's image has not been transformed into a cold, impersonal and possibly dead, Pop icon or commodity of mass consumerist culture. The visage Warhol presents here is more cinematic, presenting a potent and very disco image of a vamp. Shadow-like in the way in which all of Bardot's features have been drenched in a warm electric pink/purple tone, her fading image is brought to life by Warhol's use of - like Bardot herself - a bare minimum of make-up to the mouth and eyes.
Warhol had known Bardot since the mid-1960s. According to his assistant at the Factory, Gerard Malanga, Warhol's first film Sleep had originated from a plan Warhol had had, long before he ever owned a camera or knew Bardot, of making a film of her sleeping. Warhol met Bardot for the first time in the spring of1967 at the Cannes film festival where he had been invited to show his film Chelsea Girls during the festival's 'Critic's Week'. Warhol had left for France with a large entourage of Factory friends and colleagues only to find on arrival that the festival appeared to have censored the film and refused it a screening. Bitterly disappointed Warhol decided to remain in Cannes where he attempted to drum up support for Chelsea Girls enlisting pleas from other celebrities and drawing up a petition. Bardot, who was at this time married to photographer, playboy and Warhol collector Gunter Sachs, was one of the foremost French celebrities to come to his aid at this time, though Chelsea Girls remained unscreened.
Surprisingly, considering Bardot's iconic status as a 1960s idol, it was not until 1974 that Warhol was to make her portrait. The present work is one of only eight paintings that Warhol made from a photograph of her at this time. Filling the frame of the picture with her image in a direct and open way, Warhol lets Bardot's famous features dominate the canvas, her doe-like eyes and childish beauty emerging from the fur-like folds of her hair to command the picture plane and arrest the attention of the viewer. Indeed it is this focus of her stare that Warhol has heightened in this work, sharply angling the vivid green highlights on her eyes and contrasting this with the sharp red of her famously vulvular lips to accentuate the vampiric nature of the image. In keeping with Bardot's own nature, this more straight-forward and direct nature of the image is one that remains faithful to the simplicity of Bardot's beauty. Because of this Warhol's 'star' treatment of Bardot actually accentuates her status as an icon creating a portrait of Bardot as both individual and phenomenon.
Synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen inks on canvas
Signed 'Andy' (on the overlap)
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
47¼ x 47¼in. (120 x 120cm.)
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner.