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Art Insights: Investing in Soup

Art Insights: Investing in Soup
July 29, 2022
Bradley Calleja

This is Art?

In 1962, a 34-year-old artist by the name of Andy Warhol appeared at his first solo exhibit at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. Warhol had established an image as a leading commercial artist and carried an impressive rolodex of clients ranging from Dior to Tiffany & Co. At this west coast showing though, Warhol was attempting to build his brand as a top independent artist with a unique style known as 'pop' art. At his Ferus Gallery showing, Warhol ultimately decided to show a collection of 32 paintings - 32 cans of Campbell's Soup.

Controversy and Criticism

In the first days of Warhol's display, word spread to the c-suite at Campbell's. Within the first week, Campbell Soup CEO William Murphy sent representatives from the company's legal team to the Ferus Gallery to investigate. Despite the clear use and violation of trademarks, Campbell's ultimately decided to pass on filing a cease and desist and the show went on.

In later years, the Campbell's Soup Company embraced Warhol's work and designed multiple campaign strategies around the iconic soup cans. To solidify Warhol as the primary pop art representative for their brand, Campbell's papered an agreement with the rising artist in the mid 1960s and to this day, openly uses influences from the original art when curating advertisements.

From Head-Scratching to Head-Turning

Early on, the show itself was a dud. Warhol sold five of the 32 pieces for $100 each as Irving Blum, the owner of the Ferus Gallery, struggled to find buyer's willing to pay for Warhol's newest pieces. Even with its small scale, the display attracted a plethora of critics who famously noted 'this is art?' and referred to Warhol as a 'soft-headed fool or a hard-headed charlatan'. In the Los Angeles Times, a cartoonist poked fun at Warhol's 32 cans of soup, providing yet another prime example of the market's slow evolution into accepting this new age of pop art.

Los Angeles Times, 1962

The first true believer in Warhol's soup cans was Blum and the gallerist showed his support when he bought back the five paintings he had sold and then agreed to buy the remaining 27 paintings from Warhol for $1,000. Although the showing delivered more criticism than praise and sales were clearly limited, the event signaled a critical moment in Warhol's career. From that point on, Warhol switched his artistic method of choice from traditional painting to silkscreen printing, which allowed Warhol to produce in higher quantities. Until that time, no artist had managed to create collections at a scale similar to the level Warhol would deliver in the late 1960s-1980 and his revolutionary methods helped lay the foundation for his New York factory.

Prices for Warhol's soup cans did not remain stagnant for long. In 1970, Parke-Bernet, an auction house later acquired by Sotheby's, sold a print of Warhol's Big Campbell's Soup Can with Torn Label (Vegetable Beef) for $60,000 which at the time, set a record for any living American artist. In 2006, a smaller version of Warhol's torn label soup, this time the 'Pepper Pot' variety, sold for $11.8 million which set a new auction record for any soup can painting. That price point stood only at the top until 2017, when Christie's sold Big Campbell's Soup with Can Opener (Vegetable) for $27.5 million. While both the can opener and torn label editions are separate from the initial print run, the most expensive original Campbell's Soup Can is still the classic Tomato (1962) which last sold for $9 million at Christie's in 2010. So what came of the original 32 paintings bought by Blum? The decision turned-out to be lucrative for the dealer as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) bought the complete set from him in 1996 through a private sale that was estimated to close near $15 million.

The Campbell's Soup Series has even made headlines in recent years due to a significant case of theft that has still remained unsolved. In 2016, thieves managed to steal a set of Andy Warhol prints, including seven paintings from Warhol's 1968 edition, from the Springfield Art Museum in Missouri. To this day, the paintings are still missing as event with FBI involvement the second edition works have never resurfaced.

One, Two, Three Editions

The initial production of Campbell's Soup was developed and expanded by Warhol with multiple color scheme variations and separate editions. The first time Warhol produced a replica collection was in 1968 with his Campbell's Soup I. The first portfolio included 10 screen prints and was one of his first portfolios ever distributed through his company Factory Additions. While the initial Campbell' Soup Cans still command top prices at auction, the production of Campbell’s Soup Cans I further symbolized Warhol's early influences as an advertisement artist. The mechanical look provided by his screen printing process made the cans were an identical representation of the the soup found on grocery store shelves.

One year later in 1969, Warhol produced Campbell’s Soup Cans II. While the second 10-piece portfolio carried the same general format, the design stands alone with its injection of color and detailed labels. As you can see above in the image displaying the three portfolios, the 1968 series replicated the shadowed look of Warhol's initial 1962 cans. The 1969 edition provides an example of Warhol's evolution as an artist, with the his development of detail on full display.

Oyster Stew Sales

The most expensive single print from Warhol's 1969 production to date is a 35x23 silk screen of his 'Hot Dog Bean' soup which sold for $258,046 in Vienna in 2013. The first time a print of Warhol's 1969 Oyster Stew rendition of Campbell's Soup II broke $20,000 was at Piasa Paris, the acclaimed French gallery in 2007. The most expensive Oyster Stew ever sold was transacted through Sotheby's in April of this year for $81,900. The paintings sold was from one of Warhol's larger prints, 35x23, and comes from the Feldman & Schellmann (F & S) collection. The painting purchased by Rally, also labeled F & S, was acquired through Phillips Auction when it sold for $58,136 against a $36,426 high estimate.

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