The Oscars inspired me to watch the latest film about Jackie Kennedy directed by Pablo Larrain and starring Natalie Portman:
While I was watching, my thoughts ran to one of the most famous, partly for its controversial nature, series by Andy Warhol featuring the photographs of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, the First Lady, who was the wife of the 35th president of the United States from 1961 to 1963.
The series dates to the weeks following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and the beginnings of Warhol’s experiments with screen-printing technique. Warhol, dazzled by the staggering amount of press coverage on the event, admitted: “What bothered me was the way television and radio were programming everybody to feel so sad. It seemed like no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t get away from the thing.”
The serial nature of the portraits, which amount to c. 300 different pieces, is Warhol’s comment on the mechanisms of media which, bludgeoning its audience with a set of pictures and words, program them to think and feel a certain way. The comment on the media and the contemporary society by using the familiar and popular in a new way, was one of the characteristics of Warhol’s work.
Warhol, hypnotized by the face of First Lady, would collect the photographs of her from the press and print them on small canvases with blue- and gold-colored grounds. The colours are fundamental here as they refer to the centuries-old tradition of religious painting, with blue and gold being the most precious pigments and therefore used to highlight the importance, or sanctity, of a depicted figure. As Warhol’s close associate Bob Colacello, concluded “Andy was making religious art for a secular culture”, and with his portraits of Marilyn and the film star Elizabeth Taylor, the “trilogy of saints – two Magdalens and a Holy Virgin – was complete.” By the Holy Virgin Colacello meant Jackie, a modern Madonna, who witnessed the death of her loved ones, suffered, but remained strong and revered by many.