Andy Really Did It With Soup!

September 02, 2020


I have often found that when a person achieves incredible success – after a long struggle – the back-story is almost as fascinating as the achievement itself. That’s why I was interested in, yet another, Andy Warhol write-up that appeared in the May 2020 issue of the Smithsonian magazine.

Andy Warhol and his favorite soup

It appeared with the headline “Recipe for Fame” and was written by Blake Gopnik who reveals how Warhol moved to New York City in 1949 and, over the next 12 years, built a career as one of the city’s more stylish window dressers and top shoe illustrators. His earnings allowed him to buy a Victorian townhouse in Carnegie Hill located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Warhol was doing well, but he wanted more. Throughout 1961 he witnessed shows and reviews piling up for friends and acquaintances such as Larry Rivers and Alex Katz while he remained an also-ran at best. At the end of the year, Claes Oldenburg, another Pop pioneer, mounted The Store, a landmark installation where he sold copies of everyday merchandise. Warhol saw it and was so sick with jealousy that he skipped a friend’s dinner party.

Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist were starting to enjoy similar success with their paintings derived from comic books and billboards. Warhol, said a friend, “was just so depressed that it was all happening and he was not getting any recognition.”


It came through an accidental inspiration from a dealer named Muriel Latow, who was three years younger than Warhol. Now, she has gone down in history as Pop Art’s most important, if accidental, muse. As the story is told – in one of its many, mostly incompatible versions – Latow went to a dinner at Warhol’s house in the fall of ’61 to console him for having been one-upped by Oldenburg and Lichtenstein plus others.

“The cartoon paintings – it’s too late.” Warhol is supposed to have said, “I’ve got to do something that will have a lot of impact.” He begged his guests for ideas and Latow came up with one. But she wouldn’t deliver unless … you’ll never guess in a million years …


When he did she said, “You’ve got to find something that’s recognizable to almost everybody. Something you see every day that everyone will know what it is at once – like a can of Campbell’s soup.”

The next day Warhol ran to the Finast supermarket across the street and bought every variety of Campbell’s soup that it carried. Is this a true story? Well, one biographer claims to have seen the actual check Warhol wrote to Latow.

Warhol got a photographer to give him shots of soup cans in every state: pristine and flattened, closed and opened, single and stacked. And then, for most of the following year, he meticulously hand-painted those cans onto canvases of every size. His goal was to make his soup paintings as plain and direct as he possibly could, as though the cans had leaped from the kitchen counter onto his canvases.

Warhol’s window display on East 57th Street in April 1961

Photos: Courtesy of the Smithsonian magazine, May 2020

His friends thought he had lost it but he was not discouraged. Warhol declared that, “this is going to take off like a rocket.” And he was right – it did.


Shaun Nelson-Henrick

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