Narrator: The artist Andy Warhol made Campbell’s Soup Cans in 1962 using acrylic with metallic enamel paint on canvas. The work is made up of 32 individually-framed panels, displayed in four horizontal rows of eight. Each panel is 20 inches high and 16 inches wide. In metric units, each panel is about 51 centimeters high and 41 centimeters wide.
Warhol painted a single can of soup on each canvas. When asked why he chose Campbell’s soup as his subject, he said: “I used to have the same lunch every day, for twenty years, I guess, the same thing over and over again.”
Each soup can is painted in red, white, and gold, defined by a clean, graphic style and black outlines. Warhol depicts the cans slightly from above, showing the metal top’s gray and black grooves and raised rim.
All the cans face front and the labels follow a strict formula. The top half of each label is tomato-red featuring two lines of text. The word “Campbell’s” is written in white, cursive script emphasized by a black drop shadow. The word “condensed” appears below in smaller white capital letters.
The lower half of the can’s label is white, with the name of the soup variety in red block letters. Each of the 32 cans depicts a different flavor, such as Chicken Noodle or Clam Chowder. Below the flavor, the word “soup” appears in ornate black and gold letters. Below that, a row of small gold fleurs-de-lis, forms a border around the can’s bottom edge. At the center of each label, a coin-sized circle of swirled gold paint buttons together the red and white halves of the label.
The paintings may first appear to be mechanically produced. But there are variations from one image to the next. Not only does the flavor of soup change from canvas to canvas, but irregularities in the paint’s application reveal that these pictures were painted by hand. The fleurs-de-lis were applied with a rubber stamp. They are irregular in their spacing and opacity.
While most of the labels are uniform in style, one flavor—Cheddar Cheese—bears two bright yellow banners with black lettering. One exclaims “New!” and the other declares, “Great as a sauce, too!”
Now we’ll explore this work further with a curator.
Curator, Ann Temkin: This work consists of 32 separate canvases. And in fact, at the point at which Andy Warhol made these, these were the 32 kinds of Campbell's soup that you could find on the shelf in the supermarket.
One of the things that Warhol became interested in in the early 1960s was the idea of thinking about painting in terms of repetition rather than in terms of uniqueness. So for this he would use new processes including silk screening, rubber stamping, as well as painting by hand. He would project a drawing of the soup can onto the canvas in order to make sure that each one was done exactly alike. There's nothing here at all that's trumpeting the originality of the artist, the self-expression of the artist.
The Campbell's Soup Cans represent the beginning moment of Pop art. The Pop artists, in many cases, and certainly in Warhol's, came from working-class backgrounds. Bringing normal American topics, values, habits into the world of fine art was very important to them, I think both artistically and ethically. For Warhol, there was something very radical and daring to say that in a rich art collector's home, what would be on the wall would not be some kind of elitist subject, but a subject so ordinary and mundane and typical of American life as a tin can of soup.