Throughout his career as an icon of American Pop Art, Andy Warhol painted an astonishing number of women. Known for his incorporation of American media and advertising into his silkscreen paintings, Warhol rose to fame after creating his Campbell’s soup pieces in 1962. This artistic fascination with commercial popularity led him to paint portraits of feminine icons like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. Here are ten stunning silkscreen portraits of women painted by Andy Warhol.
1. Jackie Kennedy: Andy Warhol’s Nine Jackies and Red Jackie
While Warhol’s works reflect some of the beauty standards imposed by the patriarchal society of the time, they are notable because they do not express the male gaze. Though Warhol’s muses were most often women, he identified as a gay man and drew much of his inspiration from the gay underground culture, depicting these women with a perspective that was new to the mainstream art world. According to Jessica Beck, a curator at the Andy Warhol Museum, there’s a lot of gender swapping with women in Warhol’s work and female icons are used as surrogates for an idolized beauty that the pop artist aspired to have in his life.
One of the famous women Warhol painted in the early sixties was former First Lady of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (1929-1994). Jackie Kennedy, as she was known at the time, had been the First Lady from 1961 until her husband John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Warhol’s Nine Jackies (1964) is a macabre depiction of Jackie’s reaction to the very public and unexpected death of her husband. Composed of newspaper photographs of the Kennedy assassination and aftermath, the top row of Nine Jackies shows Kennedy before the event smiling for the crowd. The middle row of the painting shows Jackie at JFK’s funeral, and the bottom row shows her shock during the swearing-in ceremony of Lyndon B. Johnson.
While Nine Jackies turned Jacqueline Kennedy’s public tragedy into a cinematic play-by-play, it was not the only time Warhol painted Jackie. In the 1964 silkscreen work Red Jackie, Warhol depicted Jackie in a much more glamorous way, with this image based on one of her official portraits taken by a photographer for her husband’s presidential campaign. Through Warhol’s depictions of Jackie Kennedy, one can see his fascination with her public persona as the perfect wife and mother, even when marked by grief.
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2. Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe (born Norma Jeane Mortenson; 1926-1962) was the subject of some of Warhol’s most famous portraits. Not long after Monroe unexpectedly passed away, Warhol unveiled his spectacular Marilyn Diptych in 1962. The diptych was based on a publicity shot from her 1953 film Niagara. He went on to paint many more portraits of Monroe, including his 1967 silkscreen portrait Marilyn Monroe, based on the same image as the diptych. By painting the actress so many times, often with a repeating pattern, Warhol emphasized the commodification of Marilyn Monroe and the role her commercialized beauty played in popular culture.
3. Kimiko Powers
While Warhol painted a plethora of famous women due to his fascination with media and popular culture, he also painted powerful and iconic women that he knew personally. His 1972 portrait Kimiko Powers depicts an acquaintance of Warhol’s. Kimiko and her husband John Powers were art collectors who amassed one of the largest private collections of Pop Art at the time. It’s suspected that this portrait of Kimiko Powers was commissioned by her husband, yet it is entirely in line with Warhol’s usual paintings of rich and powerful women. This portrait is attentive to detail, with the pop of yellow on her kimono and Powers’ striking expression making this painting a notable work of Warhol’s.
4. Judy Garland
Another female figure who fascinated Andy Warhol was Judy Garland (born Frances Ethel Gumm; 1922-1969). Garland was an American actress and singer known for playing the part of Dorothy Gale in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Like Marilyn Monroe, Garland struggled with fame and had a difficult personal life leading up to her untimely death at the age of 47. Warhol met the actress in person at a party in 1965, where she caught his eye. Though Warhol often painted celebrities shortly after their death, he waited until ten years after the actress’ death to unveil his painting Judy (Red) in 1969. While some thought Warhol may have waited so long out of respect for Garland, he also may have waited to paint the famous actress in order to emphasize his fascination with nostalgia.
5. Julia Warhola
Amongst all the women he depicted in his life, Warhol did not leave the most important woman in his life out: his mother, Julia Warhola (1892-1972). His 1974 work Julia Warhola is composed of silkscreened red ink on fragile paper. He printed his mother a few times throughout his career, including nine times in September of 1974, just two years after her death. He also made a short film starring Julia in 1966 titled Mrs. Warhol. In the film, Julia played an aging movie star who’d had a lot of husbands throughout her life. This fragile print of Julia Warhola provides some insight into Andy’s relationship with his mother and her position as a feminine influence in his life.
6. Elizabeth Taylor
Warhol’s obsession with depicting female celebrities led him to paint Elizabeth Taylor in 1964. Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) was a British and American actress who starred in classic Hollywood cinema such as Father of the Bride (1950) and Cleopatra (1961). Warhol was fascinated with Elizabeth Taylor. According to Christie’s senior writer Stephen Jones, “He started off like a besotted teenager, admiring Liz from afar. It was only really later in life that he met her, and they became good friends, corresponding right up until his death.” Liz (1964) was released only a few years after Taylor’s near-death experience while filming Cleopatra in 1961.
7. Marsha P. Johnson
One of the iconic figures Andy Warhol painted was Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992), an American Gay liberation and AIDS activist and drag queen. Johnson was a key figure in the Stonewall uprising. She also modeled for Warhol’s 1975 series Ladies and Gentlemen. This series was commissioned by Italian art dealer Luciano Anselmino and consisted of portraits of fourteen trans women and drag queens. While this portrait of Johnson is artistically striking, there were some issues with the way Warhol and his fellow businesspeople went about this series. Though Warhol was fascinated by celebrities and notable figures, he did not publish the names of any of the women and drag queens who modeled for the series. Johnson herself even said in an interview that she found it ironic that her portrait was selling for thousands of dollars while she was nearly homeless.
8. Dolly Parton
Andy Warhol created this portrait of Dolly Parton in 1984. The portrait is another remarkable example of his depiction of the female celebrity. Dolly Parton (born January 19, 1946) is an American singer-songwriter known for her widespread popularity, campy look, and philanthropy. In Dolly Parton (1984) Warhol exaggerated Parton’s red lips and created a portrait that bears some resemblance to his depiction of Marilyn Monroe decades earlier. Released at a time when kitsch and artists like Jeff Koons were at the forefront of the American art scene, Dolly Parton was a widespread success that called back to Warhol’s earlier work.
9. Aretha Franklin by Andy Warhol
This breathtaking portrait of Aretha Franklin from 1986 is yet another example of Warhol’s portrayal of powerful and iconic women. Aretha Franklin (1942-2018) was an American singer-songwriter popularly known as The Queen of Soul, with hit songs like Respect, Chain of Fools, and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. Composed of acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, Aretha Franklin (1986) was the cover art for Franklin’s thirty-first studio album Aretha. This piece was also the final portrait Warhol completed before his death in 1987 during gallbladder surgery.
Andy Warhol’s portrait of Aretha Franklin is representative of larger themes in Warhol’s art: celebrity, media, and the power of the feminine. In using this painting as the cover art for Franklin’s album, the cycle of consumerism Warhol depicts continues to turn. Warhol’s fascination with idolized beauty led him to create portraits with many beautiful and iconic subjects throughout his lifetime.