"I wanted to be Brigitte Bardot. I wanted to be Jeanne Moreau, Marilyn Monroe all packed into one." (H. Solomon, The Andy Warhol Photograph, Pittsburgh, 1999, p.99).
Andy Warhol's portrait of the legendary art New York art dealer and socialite Holly Solomon is one of the most celebrated works in the artist's series of silkscreen portraits of art world figures and movie stars of the 1960s. The large nine-paneled work is based on a single photo booth picture of Solomon which Warhol reproduced in a variety of vivid candy-colors. Holly Solomon, was first exhibited in 1966 at Warhol's first major retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.
In 1966, the year Warhol completed her portrait, Holly Solomon was an aspiring actress who, together with her husband Horace Solomon, had started to build an extensive collection of Pop art. As an avid collector she became a well know personality around the gallery scene. She already owned one of Warhol's Marilyn paintings when she decided to have her own portrait done. Originally she wanted to have her portrait produced by the photographer Richard Avedon, but $12,000 was too expensive so she turned to Andy Warhol.
Warhol decided to produce his portrait of Solomon by using the technique of silk screening photo booth portraits that he had developed a few years earlier. The pair went off to Broadway and 42nd Street in New York with $25 in quarters to test each of the photo booths to find the one with the correct exposure that Warhol required for the look hid was trying to achieve. Once Warhol had selected the booth, he left Solomon on her own. As the time dragged on she became bored and began doing some exercises she had been taught at Lee Strasberg's Method acting classes. When the sessions were finished she handed the strips of photographs to Warhol and told him to select whichever he thought would make the best portrait. The frame Warhol eventually selected is highly theatrical. Her head tilted slightly back and to the side, her lips slightly parted and her eyes looking directly out of the frame is highly suggestive of the young starlet that Solomon so desperately wanted to become, akin to a Warhol portrait of Marilyn Monroe or the seductive young Brigitte Bardot.
This effect was highlighted by Warhol's choice of secondary colors. By selecting the various hues of yellow, violet and green mixed with large amounts of white pigment Warhol produced a makeup-like 'base' which removes many of the facial features and heightens the flattening of the image already started by the photographic process. Warhol counteracts this flatness by using contrasting high intensity colors to highlight the eyes and the lips. He had used this technique of accentuating certain features before, when he produced his pictures of Marilyn and Liz, and in Holly's case the painted eyes and lips accentuate the theatricality of the work and elevates her to star status.
Originally Solomon had wanted Warhol to use her portrait as the basis for a wallpaper to cover the walls of her apartment. Fearing that the resulting images of her would be too small, she also asked Andy to produce larger paintings that they could hang over the wallpaper. Holly received an excited telephone call from Andy to come to his studio and select an image for her portrait. Once they selected one image, Holly agreed to buy three canvases. When she and her husband went to pick up the finished portraits a month later, they found that Warhol had actually produced eight. The Solomon's bought all eight and a ninth canvas was added, when the work was exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston in October 1966. The Solomon's subsequently acquired the ninth canvas on the condition that Warhol would not produce any further copies.
Andy Warhol's portrait of Holly Solomon is pure Pop and comes from a period in his career when he was producing some of his most innovative and exciting work. His use of the photo booth snapshots allowed him to mix together elements of high and low art. The photo booth represented a quintessentially modern intersection of mass entertainment and private self-contemplation. Once the curtain was drawn the photo booth became a private world in which a person could explore the multiple sides of their personality for as long as they had enough quarters. The mechanical nature of the photo booth was also important to Warhol as it took the human artistic element out of a medium that up until that point has needed some degree of human interaction to achieve the desired result. In Holly Solomon, Warhol fills this vacuum with his own artistic ideas, contrast and the color scheme that helped him achieve the effect that he wanted. As Solomon herself recalled, Warhol was very particular about selected the right booth to achieve the effect he wanted. 'What nobody really understood about Andy at the time, was that he was a great artist. We don't understand that these contemporary painters and artists - when they are good - really understand media. When Andy did a photograph, when Lichtenstein would paint or do a drawing, they understood that medium, and what vocabulary they were going to add to the medium.' (quoted in The Andy Warhol Photograph, Pittsburgh, 1999, p.94).
She wanted a "Warhol" and became an icon in her own right; as famous as a Liz or Marilyn, which she says made her feel "pretty good". Warhol had captured not only her physical beauty but also was able to portray her to be the well-educated woman she was playing the role of the siren. As she says, the work is deliciously ironic for, at the height of the women's liberation movement, Warhol made her "the woman of the time" with all the complexity of mother, muse and intellectual. At first she was a little embarrassed by the seductive quality the portrait revealed. She was shocked that Warhol had chosen a shot which showed the roundness of her face. She said to him, "My face is round and I hate it." To which he replied, "Yeah, Holly. But don't you know that's what's beautiful about you?" "Beautiful?" I said. "Because I had never heard that word. But, great artists seduce you" (quoted in Ibid, p. 69).
9 panels--acrylic, silkscreen ink and graphite on linen
Andy Warhol , 20th Century, Paintings, United States of America, Post War
Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, Andy Warhol, October-November 1966, no. 32 (illustrated).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1967 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Painting, December 1967-February 1968, pp. 13 and 71, no. 149 (illustrated).
Pasadena Art Museum, Painting in New York: 1944 to 1969, November 1969-January 1970, no. 51 (illustrated in color).
Pasadena Art Museum; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Eindhoven, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum; Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; London, Tate Gallery and New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Andy Warhol, May 1970-June 1971, (Eindhoven, no. 139; Paris, no. 28; London, no. 47 illustrated).
Amherst, University of Massachusetts, Fine Arts Center, Critical Perspectives in American Art, April-May 1976, p. 56 (illustrated).
Milwaukee Art Museum and Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum, Warhol-Beuys-Polke, June-November 1987, no. 11 (illustrated in color).
Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum and Miami Art Museum, About Face: Andy Warhol Portraits, September 1999-June 2000, p. 21, no. 20 (illustrated in color).
Pittsburgh, The Andy Warhol Museum and Hamburg Kunsthalle, Andy Warhol Photography, May 1999-February 2000, p. 95 (illustrated).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
each: 27 x 27 in. (68.6 x 68.6 cm.); overall: 81 x 81 in. (205.7 x 205.7 cm.)
Andy Warhol, exh. cat., Stockholm, 1968, n.p. (illustrated).
J. Coplans, Andy Warhol, New York, 1970, p. 97 (illustrated).
R. Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1970, pp. 167 and 297, no. 264 (illustrated).
A. Boatto, "Andy Warhol," Data, vol. 1, no. 1, September 1971, no. 8 (illustrated).
R. Crone, Das Bildnerische Werk Andy Warhols, Berlin, 1976, no. 623.
Amerikaner: Kunst aus USA nach 1950. Eine didaktische Ausstellung: Bilder. Fotos. Texte, exh. cat., Düsseldorf, 1977, p. 40 (illustrated).
Holly Solomon Gallery, exh. cat., New York, 1983, p. 19 (illustrated).
"Collaboration Andy Warhol," Parkett, no. 12, 1987, p. 97 (illustrated).
Andy Warhol: A Retrospective, exh. cat., New York, 1989, p. 54, fig. 24 (illustrated).
J. Flatley, "Warhol Gives Good Face: Publicity and the Politics of Prosopopoeia," Pop Out, 1996, pp. 101-103, fig. 1.
G. Frei and N. Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings and Sculptures 1964-1969, vol. 02B, New York, 2002, pp. 261 and 263, no. 1924 (illustrated in color).
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Holly Solomon, New York, 1966
Her sale; Christie's, New York, 13 November 2001, lot 4
Richard Gray Gallery, New York
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner