One of only three Four-Foot Flowers to employ a red background, the present work continues one of Warhol's most iconic motifs in an exceedingly rare blend of scale and hue. This painting is one of an exclusive group of Flowers that were made to settle a legal claim filed by the photographer Patricia Caulfield in 1967. The claim disputed the ownership of the original image. Reproduced as a two-page color foldout in the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography, Patricia Caulfield's photograph of seven hibiscus flowers inspired the work that resulted in Warhol's continued blossoming in the New York art world. The first Flowers series was exhibited for Warhol's debut at Leo Castelli Gallery in November 1964 and sold out quickly.
Warhol habitually culled the media for his sources, but modified his found image in creating the screen for Flowers. As an illustration for an article on the Kodak color processor, the original photograph featured seven pink, red and yellow blossoms against foliage that resembled a coniferous shrub. Warhol cropped the left edge of the picture, eliminating three incomplete flowers, and establishing an approximately square format in the process. He then achieved the perfect square by cutting out the flower in the upper right corner of the photograph, rotating it 180 degrees and moving it further left, closer to the other three blossoms. Warhol liked the square format because of the variable orientations it offered, stating, "I like painting on a square because you don't have to decide whether it should be longer-longer or shorter-shorter or longer-shorter: it's just a square" (D. Bourdan, Andy Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 191). Owners of these works were not held to a fixed orientation and whenever Warhol had any say in their gallery installations, he displayed a preference for a random mix of "any side up."
The idea of making flowers the subject of a major series was apparently suggested to Warhol by Henry Geldzahler, then curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By choosing to depict this motif, Warhol consciously engaged the established canon of still-life painting. "With Flowers, Andy was just trying a different subject matter. In a funny way, he was kind of repeating the history of art. It was like, now we're doing my Flower period! Like Monet's water lilies, Van Gogh's flowers, the genre" (G. Malanga cited in A Year in the Life of Andy Warhol, New York, 2003, p. 74). However, Warhol's interpretation of this age-old subject was entirely his own. He rendered his flowers as mass-produced and manufactured, inspiring a different sort of wonder than previous treatments. In addition, these images, with a frontal viewpoint and cropped composition, lack a ground or horizon line and thereby dispense with a sense of space. Finally, the palette of artificial, cosmetic colors departed from the blooms' naturalistic hue. This distinction is especially pronounced in the present work, whose red screen seems to make the Day-Glo medley of blooms pulsate, with figure and ground alternating rhythmically.
In addition, the Flowers offered Warhol another opportunity to engage with the art historical concept of Vanitas. He dealt with this subject extensively; indeed, his images of damaged Soup Cans (1962), Electric Chairs (1963), Car Crashes (1963), Skulls (1976) and aged Self-Portraits (1989) are peppered with memento mori. Although seeming to depart from the morbidity of these works, the benign subject of the Flowers represent Warhol's obsession with transience as well as beauty. Insecure of his own looks, Warhol glorified glamour and celebrity most famously with the Marilyns (1962), but not without warnings of transience; our apprehension of these works is tempered by the knowledge of their subjects' future deaths. Although significantly less ominous, Warhol's Flowers share this same spirit.
Adding to its importance, the history of Four-Foot Flowers represents an early example of artistic appropriation encountering legal trouble; Warhol seems to have presciently anticipated the heated discussions about postmodern art and appropriation that surrounded the so-called "Pictures" generation of the 1980s. Warhol eventually settled Caulfield's suit out of court, and Caulfield was awarded two paintings and royalties from subsequent use of the image. Not part of this settlement, the present work was consigned to Leo Castelli, who loaned it to the Four Seasons Restaurant for exhibition on its walls.
Synthetic polymer and silkscreen inks on canvas
Please note the orientation of this work has been incorrectly illustrated in the Gallery Guide.
New York, Four Seasons Hotel, July-November 1967.
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
48 x 48 in. (121.9 x 121.9 cm.)
R. Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1970, no. 585.
R. Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1976, no. 938.
G. Frei and N. Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings and Sculptures 1964-1969, vol. 02B, pp. 319 and 321, no. 1984 (illustrated in color).
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Roger J. Davidson, Toronto
Jared Sable, Toronto