Andy Warhol

Head of a Girl and Children


Not on display

Andy Warhol 1928–1987
Graphite and gouache on paper
Support: 735 × 580 mm
frame: 1008 × 858 × 35 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008


Head of a Girl and Children is a drawing featuring a young girl shown from the mouth upwards, with five boys depicted behind her, three of which are executed with minimal detail and two being only partial figures. The girl’s head is shown frontally on the right-hand side of the composition, and its large size and cropped face suggest close proximity to the viewer. Her fingers are placed in her mouth, a gesture that could imply hesitation. The group of children in the background are drawn in simple lines and in some areas it appears as though these have been partially erased. A brownish-ochre band of paint spreads from the top left-hand side and down the centre of the paper, covering part of the girl’s face and almost splitting the composition into two halves.

This work was created by the American artist Andy Warhol in New York between 1958 and 1961. The thick block of brownish-ochre gouache paint was applied to the Strathmore paper in loose brushstrokes, with the drawing added over the top of the paint. Predominantly a line drawing, there is little detail or modelling visible aside from some shading in the form of loosely rendered linear hatching. As a result, the style of the work resembles that produced by tracing – a method that the artist had employed in his work since he was a student in Pittsburgh in the 1940s. Warhol is also known to have drawn from enlarged, projected images, and the size of this sketch and its simple lines suggest that this could be the technique used to produce this drawing. This and many of Warhol’s other sketches are not preliminary drawings but rather graphic works in which the artist developed his style as a draughtsman.

As is the case with many of his drawings from this period, such as Children 1958–61 (estate of the artist), Warhol worked from images taken by the photographer Edward Wallowitch that depicted the streets of New York and often featured children (see Hofmaier 2003, pl.8 and 8b). In this instance the group of boys in the background was copied directly from an untitled Wallowitch photograph taken in the mid-1950s (reproduced in Hofmaier 2003, pl.9b). Warhol added the girl to the composition, possibly lifting it from a different photograph. Warhol’s portraits often emphasise the eyes and mouths of his sitters, and in 1975 he said of children’s features, ‘[they] are always beautiful. Every kid, up to, say, eight years old, looks good … They always have the perfect nose … Small features and perfect skin’ (quoted in Hofmaier 2003, p.5).

Warhol sometimes completed sketches on sheets of paper that were held together with brown adhesive tape, as is the case with Three Laughing Girls 1954–5 (estate of the artist). In Head of a Girl and Children the brownish-ochre area might serve as a painted version of such tape, functioning either as a way to introduce colour or to indicate that the composition has been achieved by combining two separate photographic images.

Differing from much of his earlier work and including the blotted line technique that he developed as a commercial illustrator, many of Warhol’s more personal sketches did not come to light until after his death in 1987. While his most famous works make clear reference to consumerism and mass media, Warhol’s drawings were often based on photographs that appeared in magazines such as Look and Life during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1985 Warhol reflected that ‘Commercial art at that time was so hard because photography had really taken over, and all of the illustrators were going out of business really fast’ (quoted in Hofmaier 2003, p.7). The art critic James Hofmaier has pointed out that it is therefore ironic that so many of Warhol’s commercially successful drawings were based on photographs (Hofmaier 2003, p.7).

Art historian Marco Livingstone has suggested that Warhol used photographs frequently because he preferred to work from an object or scene that had already been translated into two dimensions, even when the actual object or scene might be to hand (see Livingstone 1989, p.65). This is particularly pertinent when considering Warhol’s celebrity portraits, which were developed from existing photographs. In his multiple silkscreen prints of Hollywood stars, such as those of Marilyn Monroe produced in 1962 and taken from a 1953 publicity still from the movie Niagra (see Marilyn Diptych 1962, Tate T03093), the artist produced portraits that became as much about the concept of the celebrity and the icon as they were about the individual. By contrast, his drawings could be seen as more intimate recordings of the real lives of those who inhabited the city in which he lived.

Further reading
Marco Livingstone, ‘Do It Yourself: Notes on Warhol’s Techniques’, in Kynaston McShine (ed.), Andy Warhol: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1989.
James Hofmaier, Warhol antePop: Drawings 1958–62, exhibition catalogue, Galerie Daniel Blau, Munich 2003, reproduced pl.9b.
Daniel Blau, From Silverpoint to Silver Screen: Andy Warhol 1950s Drawings, exhibition catalogue, Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich 2012.

Lucinda Towler
November 2016

Supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

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