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 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)