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The repeated black photographic screenprint overlaid with vivid colours was already Warhol’s trademark style of portraiture by the time he made this work. This technique was associated with glamorous subjects: Hollywood icons such as Liz Taylor or Marilyn Monroe, or the rich and famous who commissioned portraits in the early 1970s. But here a grinning skull replaces the well-groomed living sitter. In drawing this implicit comparison, Warhol may be pointing to the impermanent nature of fame, money and beauty, values that he celebrated in other works.

March 2010