There's one artist neither Elton John or Beyonce could resist adding to their collection. Here's the story behind the most expensive American artwork.
Updated Mar 18, 2023
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Andy Warhol was a pop art maestro for the visual arts. Known for his blotted-line ink drawings, he was fascinated with celebrities and explored pop culture in his work. Some of his most famous works, such as a print of Campbell’s Soup, helped create an entirely new genre of contemporary art.
Today, collectors from all walks of life covet Andy Warhol's work, from Congressman Steve Cohen to rock star Alice Cooper and real estate developer Jordan Schnitzer.
His work isn’t just iconic for its bright colors and highlighting of everyday objects. Warhol's artwork has historically increased in value, with prices averaging around $1 million since 2013.
But who exactly was Andy Warhol? And why is his art so popular today? Get ready to uncover the life and art of Andy Warhol.
Andy Warhol was born in 1928 to a working-class immigrant family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He moved to New York City in 1949 after graduating from art school with a degree in pictorial design. He became a successful commercial illustrator with clients such as Tiffany & Co., Columbia Records, and Vogue magazine.
Warhol’s prolific commercial career allowed him to finance his artistic ventures. In the mid-1950s, he started experimenting with ink-blot drawings and hand-drawn silkscreens, drawing from advertising styles and techniques he developed as an illustrator.
As a child, he suffered from Sydenham chorea, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary movements. Obsessed with celebrities, he would spend his sick days making sketches and collecting photographs of movie stars. As an adult, this obsession stayed with him as he devoted a series of works to portraying famous people, such as China's Chairman Mao or Marilyn Monroe.
Andy Warhol self-portrait (fright wig), acrylic and silkscreen on canvas.
Andy Warhol helped make pop art into what it is today, breaking down the barriers between popular culture and fine art. He was a visual arts icon responding to the mass-media culture of the 1960s and post-war consumerism that dominated American culture.
The artist died at the age of 58 on February 22, 1987, following complications from a routine gall bladder surgery. After his death, his estate was turned into The Andy Warhol Foundation, and in 1994 a museum dedicated to his work was opened in Pittsburgh. Today, his work is held in both public and private collections around the world.
Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964) by Andy Warhol sold for $195 million in 2022, making it the most expensive American artwork.
Andy Warhol created his first pop paintings in 1961 based on comic books and advertisements. He adopted his most notable style, photographic silkscreen paintings, in 1962. This technique uses a light-sensitive liquid that is applied to a silkscreen, resulting in an opaque image. Warhol added to this process by hand painting the background and tracing the printed images, thus creating his signature style.
This process allowed him to reproduce images quickly and easily from popular culture, resulting in a large series of celebrity portraits, including Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Elvis Presley, and Mick Jagger.
Chart tracking sale prices of assets similar to a 1967 Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe Print from Sep. 2010 to Oct. 2021 (not adjusted for inflation).
That same year, Warhol also created his famous Campbell’s Soup Cans, a collection of 32 screens featuring different types of soup. By repeating the patterns, Warhol made fun of capitalism and the mass production of consumer goods, a theme he'd carry throughout his career.
In 1964, Andy Warhol opened his studio called “The Factory” which became a cultural hub and hangout for artists, writers, musicians, and pop stars. It also served as a performance venue for The Velvet Underground. It was a focal point of the art scene and helped Andy Warhol become a star. The Factory is also where Andy Warhol started to experiment with other art forms, such as photography and film.
Warhol’s polaroid series depicts the world as he saw it. He took over 100,000 photographs of everything with his beloved SX70 Polaroid camera, from portraits of New York high society to anonymous nudes, actors like Jack Nicholson, and even toys like the Cabbage Patch dolls. These impromptu images served as Andy Warhol’s visual diary and offered a glimpse into the artist's mind. They're a bit like the early days of Instagram before being overrun by influencers and brands.
Chart tracking sale prices of assets similar to a 1977 Andy Warhol Pelé Polaroid from Nov. 2010 to June 2022 (not adjusted for inflation).
Andy Warhol also worked on numerous collaborations with younger artists like Jean Michel Basquiat and was known to make portraits of his friends, such as artist Keith Haring and singer-songwriter Dolly Parton.
Prices of Andy Warhol’s work varies, with paintings fetching far more than prints. One of his lithographs from his Cats Named Sam series is valued at $7,500, while a screenprint from his Campbell’s Soup series can go for as much as $100,000. The value of his work depends on the type of work and how many there are in circulation. Much of Warhol’s work makes headlines for breaking auction records and is a mainstay in virtually every major art collection worldwide.
Chart tracking sale prices of assets similar to a '69 Andy Warhol Campbell's Soup Print from June 2000 to April 2022 (not adjusted for inflation).
Warhol's self-portraits can go for millions of dollars. A self-portrait of the artist went for $32 million in 2010, while another sold for $6.5 million in 2016. Warhol's polaroids can also fetch high prices at auction. Two polaroids of Keith Haring and his partner Juan Dubose sold for $16,380 in 2022, while a Cabbage Patch Kids polaroid sold for $10,625 in 2020. And in 2010, one of Warhol's ethereal polaroids sold for an eyewatering sum of $146,500.
Average prices of Andy Warhol art sold at auction from 2010 to 2021.
Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe series has been one of the most popular artworks among collectors in recent years. His Shot Sage Blue Marilyn broke the record for the most expensive American artwork, selling for $195 million in 2022. The value of a Lavender Marilyn  appreciated over 647x in 25 years, while a montage of Four Marilyns appreciated nearly 38x its original purchase price over 23 years.
There are many ways to buy an authentic Andy Warhol painting or print. Most collectors would purchase a Warhol through auction houses like Sotheby’s or Christie’s or even specialized art brokers like Artsy. You can also find some of his artwork in galleries throughout the United States.
When purchasing an art piece, it’s important to confirm with the seller that it’s authentic and comes with a certificate. Look for signs that the work has been tampered with and ensure that all signatures match.
Another way to invest in art is through an online investment platform like Masterworks, Rally, or Public. All three offer Andy Warhol pieces.
Masterworks specializes in art and makes it easy to buy fractional shares of many famous art pieces, including works by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Banksy. Once you own the shares, you can make money by selling them on Masterworks' secondary marketplace or wait for Masterworks to sell the piece and distribute the profits to investors.
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