Update: All ten prints from the Campbell’s Soup II set that Warhol gave to Dr. Rossi sold in the Christie’s auction. Lots 1 through 4 (lot 4 is shown above) and lots 6 through 8 each sold for $37,500. Lot 5 sold for $35,000. Lots 9 and 10, which were more faded, sold for $16,250 and $23,750, respectively.
What you see: A screenprint from Campbell’s Soup II, a limited edition series of 250 that Andy Warhol created in 1969. Warhol also made 26 artist’s proofs–sets reserved for his own use–and marked each with a letter. This print is from the ‘B’ set and it is lot 4 in an upcoming Christie’s sale. The auction house estimates it and seven others from the complete ‘B’ set at $18,000 to $25,000; two more from the same group are estimated at $10,000 to $15,000.
Who was Andy Warhol? Born as Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he is one of the most famous and influential artists of the 20th century. Like Picasso, he refused to confine himself to a single medium, taking on painting, printmaking, film, photography, rock band management, and creating books and magazines. The scene that evolved around his Manhattan studio, which he dubbed The Factory, became famous in its own right. A 1968 exhibition program for his work contained the words, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” a phrase that has become more prophetic over time. On June 3 of that year, Valerie Solanas, an outlier member of The Factory scene, attacked the artist at his studio, shooting him and a visiting art critic. Both survived, but Warhol nearly didn’t, having suffered injuries to several organs. Warhol lived for 19 more years, succumbing in 1987 in Manhattan after gallbladder surgery. He was 58.
Warhol created a lot of iconic images–the Mao portrait, the Brillo box, the Marilyn silkscreen–but his Campbell’s Soup can images might be the best-remembered of his works. Why? “It really gets back to the origin of Pop Art,” says Lindsay Griffith, specialist and head of sale for prints for Christie’s. “He played with the idea of what you already knew. You were so conditioned to see them [the soup cans] in a different context. You did not expect to see them in a gallery. He toggled back and forth between high and low constantly. He changed the nature of image production in the fine-art sense. It’s the purest expression of that.”
I was aware that Warhol had been shot in 1968, and I had seen the photos of him displaying his scar, but I had no idea how badly he was hurt. What happened? “He was actually declared clinically dead. Three bullets entered his chest and stomach. He lost a tremendous amount of blood,” she says. “Dr. Giuseppe Rossi was a chest and thoracic surgeon. He had handled quite a few gunshot victims because of what the neighborhood [of Columbus hospital, whose emergency room received Warhol,] was. He was talented with gunshot surgeries. Every account I have read shows, truly, he saved Warhol’s life. In reading his diaries, that’s how Warhol felt. The damage was incredibly extensive, and he was in pain for the rest of his life.”
It seems that Warhol could have done better with handling the bills that Dr. Rossi sent. The doctor wrote “Pay up you blowhard” on the outside of one of them. And a story that Christie’s wrote on the ten lots includes an image of a check Warhol wrote to the doctor for $1,000, which bounced (scroll down to see it). Did the artist send the Campbell’s Soup II set of prints as payment for his treatment? “Rossi also became Warhol’s doctor for the rest of his life. That bill [the one Dr. Rossi wrote his message on] is potentially related to that,” she says, describing an ongoing relationship between the artist and the family that included Warhol sending Christmas gifts and sitting for an interview with Dr. Rossi’s young son for his middle school newspaper. “A number of people received the prints as gifts. They were really a gift, a gesture of gratitude,” Griffith says, and adds that Warhol asked for Rossi when he entered the hospital in 1987, but the family was vacationing out of the country. Warhol died before they came back. Dr. Rossi died in 2016.
The family consigned the full set of 10 prints to Christie’s, but you are selling them individually. Why? “We felt that was how they would perform best commercially,” she says, explaining that the Rossis stored eight of the prints in a box under a bed and displayed two. If you compare lots 9 and 10 to lots 1 through 8, which stayed in the dark from 1968 to now (scroll down a little to see the 10 lots as a group), you’ll spot the difference that UV light can make. “We wanted to emphasize the condition of those eight. Their colors are in exceptionally wonderful condition.”
Do the estimates for the ten prints reflect the value of the story of Warhol and Dr. Rossi? “We priced them because they are wonderful objects. We did not take the provenance into account at all,” she says. “But provenance is always an interesting X-factor at auction.”
Why will these lots stick in your memory? “This is one of my favorite stories from the last few years of being here at Christie’s,” Griffith says. “Rossi is directly responsible for continuing a tremendous career in 20th century art. It’s a story we’re privileged to be a part of, and we encourage everyone to come and see the prints. They look absolutely amazing in our gallery. They’re meant to be looked at.”
How to bid: The set of Campbell’s Soup II prints given by Warhol to Dr. Rossi are lots 1 through 10 in the Prints and Multiples sale at Christie’s New York on October 24 and 25.
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s / © 2017 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.