Warhol's final self-portraits reveal his darker side

Six months before Andy Warhol died of a heart attack, he finished painting his last series of self-portraits. They differed dramatically from anything he had previously produced.

The artist and founding father of Pop Art had spent a lifetime "playing" with his own image in ways which left his emotions illusive. But these final portraits, created in 1986, were far darker and more revelatory, exposing a paralysing fear of death in a set of paintings which showed his stark, skull-like face staring out of the canvas.

In the images, set on an inky black background, his bald head is covered by his famously disconcerting "fright wig".

The works, which have not been seen for more than two decades, will be unveiled at Sotheby's in New York today. When they are sold next month in London, it will be the first time they have appeared on the market since his death. They are expected to sell for more than £10m.

Warhol's final series of self-portraits is now widely accepted as the most important of his career. It reflects the phobia of doctors he developed at a time when he was suffering from recurring gall bladder problems, but delayed treatment and grew increasingly afraid of hospitals.

Warhol died the night after he brokered their sale to a private collector. Since his death, on 22 February 1987, the images have come to represent his fear of his own mortality and descent into paranoia.

Created for the only dedicated exhibition of self-portraits to be staged in his lifetime, the trinity of red, white and blue silk screens represent the colours of the American flag.

The three 40-inch canvases are the only ones in theoriginal series of six works to remain together. The other three, pink, green and yellow, versions are held in separate private collections worldwide.

This series is universally acknowledged as Warhol's last great artistic gesture in which he returned to the form he had reached at his creative height in the 1960s, when he was also producing his silk-screen prints of Hollywood celebrities including Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Elvis Presley.

Francis Outred, head of evening auctions at Sotheby's, said the silk screens were bought by the present owner from the artist's exhibition at Anthony d'Offay's gallery in London, which displayed portraits bought by the Tate gallery in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Carnegie Museum in Warhol's home town of Pittsburgh.

Mr Outred said that although he was deeply self-conscious about his personal appearance, which became more fragile and eccentric as he aged, Warhol reproduced his own image prolifically.

He used different guises throughout his career, sometimes half-hidden by shadows, sunglasses or a mackintosh, and at other times in drag or dressed as a streetwise New Yorker sitting in a photo-booth, but always presenting himself as a distant, machine-like recorder.

In these late examples, Warhol appears to be reaching the end of his apparent endeavour to present himself as a "consumer brand", now perhaps past its prime.

"Throughout his career he became known for his pop art and portraits of celebrity icons, as if he recognised the society we live in even before we did," Mr Outred said.

"What's important about his self-portraits is that it marked the rise of his own brand, that itself became iconic. Why these are so important is that he was coming to the end of his life and although he did not know this, he was certainly thinking of his life, mortality and posterity."

He continued: "What also differs is that before he never appeared to fully reveal himself in his self-portraits, but here he has piercing eyes and paints himself with his fright wig, which he wore because he was losing his hair.

"It's as if this time he wanted to show himself exactly as he was."

Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map