Canned Icons
The Story and Legacy of Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans

Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962

Photo: Wally Gobetz

In our latest exhibition at the Galerie de Buci, POP ART POP-UP, apart from the Marylins and the Brigittes in dialogue each other, visitors can also see editions of Andy Warhol’s ubiquitous Campbell’s Soup Cans. Although perhaps less striking than the boldly colored silkscreens of celebrities, these images derive from what was one of the most consequential artworks of the Pop Art genius, and in this article we delve into a discussion about this ever-present, classic work.

Andy Warhol was a pioneer that revolutionized the art world and the art market. As the creator of some of the 20th century’s most recognizable images, he is credited with changing people’s perceptions of both aesthetic and commercial values when it came to visual art. The story and legacy of the Campbell’s Soup Cans, perhaps one of his most influential subjects, is a fascinating one, and it reveals the processes that went on in Warhol’s mind – as well as why his works are still revered nowadays. Join us to find out how!

Generic or Unique? The Genesis of an Icon
The story of Andy Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Cans" begins with a seemingly mundane grocery item that was transformed into an iconic symbol of 20th-century art. In 1962, Warhol, already an established commercial illustrator, made a radical shift to fine art with his debut solo exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. This exhibition showcased 32 canvases, each depicting a different flavor of Campbell's soup, meticulously replicated with a flat, mechanical style that contrasted sharply with the emotive brushstrokes of Abstract Expressionism, a movement which had dominated the art world until then. Warhol's choice of subject matter—a mass-produced, everyday product—challenged traditional notions of what constituted fine art. He is said to be fascinated by consumer culture and the burgeoning influence of advertising, and "Campbell's Soup Cans" was a direct commentary on the commodification of art and life in post-war America. Warhol's deliberate use of repetition and uniformity in his soup can series echoed the production lines of the industrial age, blurring the lines between high art and mass production, and echoing the item repetition that could be encountered also in a commercial place, say a supermarket. This work not only marked a pivotal moment in Warhol's career but also heralded the arrival of Pop Art as a major artistic movement, redefining art's relationship with popular culture and consumerism.

Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962
Photo: Wally Gobetz

Art Meets Commerce: The Pop Art Movement
The emergence of Andy Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Cans" was a watershed moment in the Pop Art movement, a genre that celebrated and critiqued the burgeoning consumer culture of the 1950s and 1960s. Pop Art's ethos was grounded in the juxtaposition of high and low culture, blurring the boundaries between fine art and everyday life. Warhol, along with contemporaries like Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg, drew inspiration from advertising, comic strips, and mundane consumer goods, reflecting the omnipresence of commercial imagery in modern life. Warhol's "Soup Cans" epitomized this movement, taking a ubiquitous grocery store item and elevating it to the status of fine art. By replicating the Campbell's soup label—a design familiar to every American household—Warhol democratized art, making it accessible and relevant to the general public. This subversive act questioned the elitism of the art world and the exclusivity of artistic expression. Warhol's work highlighted the pervasive influence of mass media and consumerism, suggesting that art could no longer be divorced from the commercial context in which it existed. The Pop Art movement, with Warhol at its helm, challenged the art establishment to reconsider the definitions of originality and authenticity in an era dominated by mass production and consumer culture.

Richard Hamilton, Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Appealing?, 1956
Photo: Meidosensei

The Making of Soup Cans: Technique and Inspiration
Creating "Campbell's Soup Cans'' was an exercise in meticulous replication and innovation, reflecting Andy Warhol's fascination with mechanical processes and his background in commercial art. Warhol employed a technique that emphasized uniformity and precision, departing from the loose, individualized brushwork of his Abstract Expressionist predecessors. He initially hand-painted each of the 32 canvases, one for each variety of soup Campbell's offered at the time, using a pencil to outline the image and filling it in with synthetic polymer paint to mimic the flat, commercial quality of the original labels. This manual replication was a deliberate choice, symbolizing the mass production processes that defined mid-20th century consumerism. Warhol's process also included the use of silkscreen printing, a method borrowed from the advertising industry, which allowed for the mass production of images and ensured consistency across multiple works. This technique underscored Warhol's interest in the intersection of art and commerce, as it facilitated the creation of numerous, nearly identical artworks, mirroring the way consumer products were manufactured. Warhol's inspiration for the "Soup Cans" series was rooted in his own experiences and observations of American culture; he famously claimed to have eaten Campbell's soup for lunch every day for 20 years, reflecting both a personal and cultural connection to the product.

Andy Warhol, Campbell's Soup Can (Tomato) Pencil on paper, 1962
Photo: DatBot

Public and Critical Reception: Controversy and Acclaim
The debut of Andy Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Cans" at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1962 was met with a mixed reception that mirrored the divisive nature of Pop Art itself. Public reactions ranged from bewilderment to intrigue, with many viewers struggling to reconcile the artwork's banal subject matter with its presentation in a fine art context. Critics were similarly polarized. Some dismissed the work as trivial and unworthy of serious consideration, seeing it as an affront to the traditional values of art. They viewed the repetitive, mechanical nature of the paintings as a cynical commentary on art and originality, accusing Warhol of merely reproducing commercial images without any real artistic merit. However, others recognized the profound implications of Warhol's work. They appreciated the way "Campbell's Soup Cans" challenged conventional aesthetics and critiqued consumer culture, seeing it as a bold and innovative statement. Esteemed art critics and cultural commentators began to recognize the genius in Warhol's ability to transform everyday objects into powerful symbols of contemporary life. The controversy itself became a part of the artwork's narrative, drawing attention and sparking debates about the nature of art, authenticity, and the role of the artist in a commercial society. Warhol's work was soon celebrated for its audacity and its reflective commentary on American culture, earning him a pivotal place in the art world.
Andy Warhol Signed 'Balls Campball's Soup' Can
Photo: Abington Auctions

Cultural Impact: From Gallery to Supermarket Shelves
The enduring relevance of Andy Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Cans" is vividly reflected in the contemporary art market, where his works continue to command astonishing prices at auction, underscoring their lasting significance and appeal. In May 2006, Warhol's "Small Torn Campbell Soup Can (Pepper Pot)" (1962) set a world record for a painting from the "Campbell's Soup Cans" series, selling for $11,776,000. Adjusted for inflation, this price is equivalent to approximately $17.8 million in 2023, highlighting the growing value and recognition of Warhol's work over time. This record-setting sale is a testament to Warhol's profound impact on the art world and the high regard in which his work is held. It also reflects the broader cultural and economic forces that continue to drive interest in Warhol's art, including his pioneering role in the Pop Art movement and his exploration of the intersections between art and consumer culture. Today, Warhol's "Soup Cans" are not only celebrated for their historical significance but also as valuable investments and symbols of cultural prestige. They regularly feature in major exhibitions and collections around the world, attracting diverse audiences and sparking renewed discussions about the nature of art and consumerism.

Andy Warhol, Small Torn Campbell’s Soup Can (Pepper Pot), 1962
Photo: Christie’s

Andy Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Cans" revolutionized the art world, transcending its mundane subject matter to become an enduring symbol of the Pop Art movement. Its impact continues to resonate in contemporary culture, reflecting Warhol's visionary exploration of consumerism and challenging traditional notions of artistic value. As these iconic paintings fetch record prices at auction, they stand as a testament to Warhol's lasting legacy and his ability to provoke thought and inspire creativity across generations. Before June 16th, come to the Galerie de Buci to be faced by these striking and defying images, and enjoy being challenged by them, admiring how Warhol was able to revolutionize the art world!

© All Rights Reserved Galerie de Buci
Made on