Andy Warhol's 'rediscovered masterpiece' brings $17.4m at Christie's art auction

Last night, Christie's held its Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening auction in London. There could be only one top lot in the sale.

Some time ahead of the auction, Christie's announced the rediscovery of a highly important, monumental-scale self-portrait by Andy Warhol (1928-1987).

Executed in 1967 and an addition to an historically important series of 10 self-portraits, the picture has been in a private collection since 1974 when it was acquired from Leo Castelli, Warhol's primary dealer.

The present work is one of an historic series of 11 large-scale self-portraits executed in 1967, five of which are in museums (Tate, London; The Staatsgalerie Moderne Kunst, Munich; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and two at the Detroit Institute for Arts).

Such is the importance of the series that eight of the known works were included in the artist's landmark retrospective at MOMA two years after his death in 1989. The work in the auction is completely unpublished and has been in the same private collection since 1974.

Andy Warhol Self Portrait
Andy Warhol Self Portrait

Francis Outred,Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, Christie's Europe commented before the sale: "I'm incredibly excited at the prospect of offering this rediscovered masterpiece by Andy Warhol.

At the time of its execution Warhol was at the peak of his creative powers and this very rare series of works were the largest self-portraits he had made. This work shows a classic image of the artist in an imposing, larger than life scale, with an extraordinary presence of thick, red paint. That five of the works from this series are in museums is a testament to their importance."

The image of Warhol with his hand to his mouth is one of the most representative and iconic images of the artist. Warhol first used the image for a group of works in 1966 painted in a much smaller, life-size scale.

The following year he used the same image in producing 11 monumental works in a large-scale format of six foot square, of which the present example is one.

Six works from this series were exhibited in the American Pavilion at the 1967 International and Universal Exposition in Montreal which was visited by tens of millions of people, and which saw the portraits dominate an exhibition including works by Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Barnett Newman and Robert Rauschenberg.

The picture was exhibited in public for the first time at Christie's New York from 22 to 26 January 2011 and was expected to realise £3m to £5m. In the event, eager bidders sparred furiously for the work which eventually left the stage for £10.8m ($17.4m).


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