Why Campbell Soup Hated, Then Embraced Andy Warhol’s Soup Can Paintings

Not long after, the company sent a lawyer.

Thus began a decades-long love-hate relationship between the artist and the company. It started with immense skepticism, but Campbell eventually grew to embrace the artwork and even sponsored a Warhol exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Campbell’s eventual association with Warhol’s heirs heralded the convergence of art, advertising, branding, and fashion that is common today.

When the Campbell mark appeared on Warhol’s artwork in 1962, then-chairman and CEO William Beverly Murphy “indicated that he had some initial concern” about the use of the company’s trademarks, according to the company, which caused the lawyer’s visit to the Ferus Gallery. .

A cease and desist order was considered. But in July 1962, John T. Dorrance, Jr., the son of the inventor of condensed soup, had just taken office as president. He was a passionate art collector and well established in the art world. As criticism of the show mounted: “Is this art?” — so did advertising. For whatever reasons, the company went into legal action.

Also, the gallery showing was doing poorly, with only five of the works selling for around $100 each, though one went to Hollywood star Dennis Hopper.

Warhol, born in 1928 in Pittsburgh, the son of Slovak immigrants, was even better known as a commercial illustrator for shoe brands and department stores than as a plastic artist. Gallerist Irving Blum decided the paintings might be worth more together one day and bought them back. It would turn out to be prophetic.

Meanwhile, Warhol’s next series was about celebrities and, with Elvis and Marilyn replacing Onion and Tomato, that show sold out.

Consumers send their labels for a Warhol

In 1964, it was Campbell who approached the artist.

According to a letter in his files, a product marketing manager wrote to Warhol: “Your work has aroused great interest here at the Campbell Soup Company.” A few boxes of tomato soup, supposedly the artist’s favorite, were sent to his home in New York City in thanks.

The manager even obliquely hinted at a trade: “I was hoping to get one of your Campbell’s soup can label paintings, but I’m afraid it has become too expensive for me,” he wrote. There is no documentation of him obtaining free soup can art as a result. But Beth Jolly, Campbell’s vice president of food and beverage communications, he noted that the company ended up ordering one for a board member who was retiring the same year.

In 1966, the association became official. Campbell invited consumers to send in a couple of can labels and $1.00 in exchange for a Warhol-designed paper dress. The promotion was a success. The dress now sells for around $20,000 in art galleries and online and is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.

Not for sale

But Campbell still wasn’t entirely convinced that the paintings on his cans were art.

In 1970, when Sotheby’s auction house held its first contemporary art sale, it featured a Warhol “peel-label tin” with a suggested opening bid of $20,000.

The auction house contacted Campbell and the Dorrance family to see if they were interested in buying, but “they told me they weren’t interested,” says David Nash, who worked on that initial sale and eventually became boss. of impressionist and modern art at the auction house. auctioneer.

(Ironically, Nash went on to do a lot of business with the family: In 1989, he oversaw the sale of John T. Dorrance, Jr. fine art and furniture that raised $124 million and broke the then-record for a collection.)

Warhol, meanwhile, proved to be very brand loyal (he didn’t stray to Lipton, though he did make some art out of Coca-Cola bottles) and Campbell’s Soup cans and boxes appeared regularly in his productions and on his talk shows and talk shows. of MTV of the decade of 1980. .

Warhol died unexpectedly, in 1987, at the age of 58. His fame only increased.

It helped the value of the soup artworks that it became a very popular print series and had two conflicting interpretations by critics.

How we got addicted to using cotton swabs the wrong way

Some argued that the work was a sour but clever critique of mass production, even capitalism, while others saw a more comforting wall of soup, more about America and post-war options and prosperity.

In 1996, Blum sold the original set of 32 canned paintings to the Museum of Modern Art in New York in a partial sale/gift valued at $15 million. (The auction record for any Warhol is $195 million, set earlier this year for “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn.”)

In 2012, the soup company issued a promotional series of “limited edition” soup cans featuring Warhol’s interpretation of the company’s labels in various colors. He also acted as educational and event sponsor for the Met Museum’s “Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years” exhibition.

Today, the company has a painting of a soup can hanging at its Camden, New Jersey, headquarters, Jolly said, and continues to work with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts on charitable ventures and, most recently, on hoodies and other licensed apparel.

But Warhol’s estate hasn’t escaped all trademark battles.

The Supreme Court said in May it would take up a case on whether the late painter infringed a photographer’s copyright when he created a series of screen prints of the musician Prince. They used an image by photographer Lynn Goldsmith as source material.

And while the Warhol Foundation has argued, often successfully in lower courts, that the use of Warhol’s work is “transformative,” the case has big implications for artists who draw inspiration from or appropriate pre-existing images.

Leave a Comment