When asked why he chose to paint Campbell’s soup cans, Warhol offered a deadpan reply: “I used to have the same lunch every day, for twenty years, I guess, the same thing over and over again.” That daily meal is the subject of this work consisting of thirty-two canvases—one for each of the flavors then sold by Campbell’s—using a combination of projection, tracing, painting, and stamping. Repeating the nearly identical image, the canvases at once stress the uniformity and ubiquity of the product’s packaging and subvert the idea of painting as a medium of invention and originality.
Gallery label from "Collection 1940s—1970s", 2019
“I don’t think art should be only for the select few,” Warhol said. “I think it should be for the mass of the American people.” Like other Pop artists, Warhol used images with wide appeal: comic strips, advertisements, photographs of rock-music icons and movie stars, and tabloid news shots. In Campbell’s Soup Cans he reproduced an object of mass consumption in the most literal sense. When he ﬁrst exhibited these canvases—there are thirty-two of them, the number of soup varieties Campbell’s then sold—each one simultaneously hung from the wall, like a painting, and stood on a shelf, like groceries in a store. The artist referred to them affectionately as “portraits.” Warhol made these paintings in a systematic multistep process. First he delineated each can with pencil on canvas. Next he painted the can and label by hand, using a light projector to superimpose the lettering directly onto the canvas, then tracing its form. Repeating the nearly identical image at the same scale, the canvases stress the uniformity and pervasiveness of the Campbell’s can, thereby challenging the prevailing idea of painting as a medium of invention and originality distinct from popular culture. The Campbell’s label, which had not changed in more than ﬁfty years, was unremarkable and ubiquitous. Warhol later said of Campbell’s soup, “I used to drink it. I used to have the same lunch every day, for twenty years, I guess, the same thing over and over again.”
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
When Warhol first exhibited Campbell’s Soup Cans, in 1962, each of the thirty-two canvases rested on a shelf mounted on the wall, like groceries in a store. The number of paintings corresponds to the varieties of soup then sold by the Campbell Soup Company. Warhol assigned a different soup variety to each, checking them off on a product list supplied by Campbell once their “portraits” were completed.
Gallery label from On to Pop, September 29, 2010-April 25, 2011.
Warhol made these paintings using a multi-step process. First, a pencil underdrawing of the soup cans outline was made on each canvas, possibly by tracing a projection of a drawing. Next, the can and label were painted by hand, and the lettering for each variety was projected and painted onto each canvas. Finally, the gold fleur-de-lis at the bottom of each can were applied with a stamp cut from a rubber eraser. Despite this systematic approach, there are subtle discrepancies among the paintings. For example, the reds and whites differ slightly in tone from one canvas to the next, and the fleur-de-lis imprints vary with each successive stamp.
Gallery label from Andy Warhol: Campbell's Soup Cans and Other Works, 1956—1967, April 25–October 18, 2015.