Andy Warhol

John Richardson


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Not on display

Andy Warhol 1928–1987
Acrylic paint and silkscreen ink on canvas
Support: 1021 × 1022 mm
Presented by the Tate Americas Foundation, courtesy of Sir John Richardson 2017


John Richardson is a work in acrylic paint and silkscreen ink on linen canvas produced by the American artist Andy Warhol in New York between October and November 1973. Medium-sized in format, it depicts British art historian Sir John Richardson (born 1924) standing with head tilted to his right against a black background. Sporting a black leather cap and zip-up jacket with the lapel folded down to reveal a bare chest, he is captured with tongue curled in an expression of authoritarian defiance or sexualised beckoning. Executed according to Warhol’s trademark acrylic paint and silkscreen printing technique, and with his charismatic pop art palette – here, peach and electric blue are contrasted vividly with the black background – the work is one of a number of portrait paintings of contemporary figures that Warhol produced across his career.

Best known for his work on Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) – the first of four planned volumes of his much-acclaimed biography, A Life of Picasso, received the Whitbread Award in 1991 – Sir John spent his early adulthood in London and at the Château de Castille near Avignon with his partner, the collector and art historian Douglas Cooper, before moving to New York in 1960. Here, he set up the New York branch of Christie’s auction house with fellow Briton Charlie Allsopp, before joining the fine art dealership M. Knoedler and Co. where he was in charge of nineteenth- and twentieth-century painting. He curated a Picasso retrospective across nine galleries in 1962 and wrote consistently, contributing to a number of different publications.

A familiar face in the artistic circles generated by gallery openings and events in New York at the time, it was in this context that Sir John met Warhol in the early 1960s. The two would develop a close and mutually enriching friendship that would last until the artist’s death in 1987. It culminated in the eulogy that Sir John delivered on the occasion of Warhol’s memorial service at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on 1 April 1987, in which he praised his friend as ‘the quintessential artist of his time and place – the artist who held the most revealing mirror up to his generation’ (quoted in Charles Stuckey, Andy Warhol: Heaven and Hell Are Just One Breath Away!, New York 1992, p.140).

Produced between October and November 1973, John Richardson is one of a number of portraits of figures from the art world and entertainment industry that Warhol completed in the 1970s. While he conveyed a range of different sitters, however, his trademark production technique and charismatic pop art style remained constant (see, for example, Brooke Hayward 1973, Tate T12600). Each work would begin with a Polaroid snapshot of the subject taken by Warhol himself. As a photographic method that ensured a high contrast image, the Polaroid functioned as an ideal source material for the artist’s characteristic bright and contrasting colour scheme. From the Polaroid snapshot, a simple outline would be traced onto the linen or canvas being used as a support, before the artist filled in shapes or suggestions of colour with acrylic paint. The original photographic image was then transferred to a silkscreen and printed over the painted base. While the hand-colouring produced a free-flowing finish, visible in John Richardson as specks and sweeps of electric blue and grey on the face and jacket, the silkscreen print resulted in a flat and uniform surface, visible here as a smooth expanse of peach and black.

While Warhol’s depictions of international figures such as Marilyn Monroe (see Tate P07121P07130) and Chairman Mao (see Tate P77073P77082) remain some of the most iconic of his works, his portraits of less universally well-known members of New York’s artistic and social circles were equally important. Usually commissioned by friends or acquaintances – such as art dealers Ivan Karp and Leo Castelli, fashion designer Carolina Herrera, fellow pop artist Roy Lichtenstein or Sir John himself – they served as a good source of income for the artist during the 1970s. Despite being grounded in one of the oldest and most traditional forms of art-making, Warhol’s portraits are decidedly modern, depicting contemporary figures in a contemporary style. The glitz and glamour of the American highlife is presented through the lens of contemporary culture, as Warhol draws on the bright colours and simplified forms of advertising strategies in his characteristic pop approach.

Robert Rosenblum, contributor to the catalogue of Warhol’s exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1979, has noted that the artist was himself a socialite: an integral part of the culture he depicted. Surveying a celebrity world from within its very midst, he can be seen, as such, as a new breed of society artist, ‘an ideal court painter to his 1970s international aristocracy’ (Robert Rosenblum, ‘Andy Warhol: Court Painter to the 70s’, in Whitney Museum of American Art 1979, p.115). Produced from a Polaroid photograph taken at one such social gathering, John Richardson stands as a record of a historical moment, a cultural milieu and a friendship. Remembering both artist and companion, Sir John has said: ‘Andy was always there. He went to every opening, every event. He was the recorder of his time with photos, portraits, diaries. Every morning of his life he dictated what had happened the day before. I don’t think there’s anybody else in the second half of the 20th century who covered as much ground – the whole of showbiz, anybody in politics, tycoons, movie stars. It was the whole world in the end’ (quoted in Jones 2002, paragraph 3, accessed 16 January 2013).

Further reading
David Whitney (ed.), Andy Warhol: Portraits of the 70s, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1979.
Jonathon Jones, ‘My 15 Minutes: Art Historian John Richardson on Andy Warhol’, Guardian, 7 February 2002,, accessed 16 January 2013.

Hannah Dewar
January 2013

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