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Sion Touhig/Getty Images
Sion Touhig/Getty Images

16 Things You Might Not Know About Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans

Sion Touhig/Getty Images
Sion Touhig/Getty Images

It’s easy to look at Andy Warhol's breakout Campbell's Soup Cans and think, "What's to know? It's cans of soup." Critics certainly did. But that’s just one of the bumps Warhol’s work hit on its path to becoming iconic. 

1. IT’S NOT AS REPETITIVE AS YOU MIGHT THINK. 

At a glance, Campbell's Soup Cans looks like a series of repetitions of the same can on similar 20-inch-by-16-inch canvases. But the reason Warhol cranked through 32 different canvases can be found on closer inspection of the names on both the cans and the paintings. (Tomato, Clam Chowder, Black Bean…) Warhol created a portrait of every non-frozen Campbell's soup flavor available to him in 1962. 

2. WARHOL BECAME A MACHINE TO MASTER HIS VISION. 

After buying every kind of can at his local grocery store, the eccentric artist projected each can onto a canvas. Each time he carefully traced out their finest details. Then, the 33-year-old meticulously filled in his outlines, hoping to mimic the mechanically reproduced look of the original labels. 

3. WARHOL’S PROCESS WASN’T PERFECT. 

Warhol used a hand stamp to keep the fleur-de-lis pattern that lines the bottom of each can consistent. But his placement varied from canvas to canvas. Similarly, the hues of red and white vary slightly, and one soup can is missing the gold band. But some critics have argued these human touches amid attempted uniformity are what make Campbell's Soup Cans so compelling.  

4. THE PAINTINGS’ GALLERY DEBUT ALSO PULLED INSPIRATION FROM THE GROCERY STORE.

While visiting the Pittsburgh-born provocateur in the midst of Campbell's Soup Cans' production, art dealer Irving Blum was so impressed that he offered Warhol a show at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. Blum staged the series of soup can paintings on grocery store shelves that lined the length of his groundbreaking gallery.

5. THE PAINTINGS MADE HISTORY. 

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Not only was the Ferus Gallery show Warhol's first solo exhibition of pop paintings, it was also the first time Pop art had been displayed on the West Coast. No matter what the response was, this was a history-making event. 

6. THE CRITICS WERE HARSH. 

The Los Angeles Times wrote of the exhibit, "This young 'artist' is either a soft-headed fool or a hard-headed charlatan." Essentially, Warhol's cans reignited the age-old debate about art versus commercialism that plagued Pop art in the early 1960s. 

7. OTHERS OPENLY MOCKED THE WORK. 

One art dealer down the street from the Ferus crudely lampooned Campbell's Soup Cans by stacking actual soup cans in his gallery. To add insult to injury, the enterprising art troll promoted the event by advertising that at two for 33 cents, his cans were cheaper than Warhol's, which were selling for $100 each

8. THE INITIAL SALES STRATEGY WAS SHAKY. 

Though the rising artist had already been featured in a Time magazine article with the likes of American Pop pioneers Roy Lichtenstein, Wayne Thiebaud, and James Rosenquist, Blum advised Warhol to set a "low price level during initial exposure." This plan did help sell five of the 32 paintings. But Blum soon realized selling the cans individually would destroy the power of the pieces as an ensemble. To correct the situation, he reached out to all the owners, including movie star Dennis Hopper, and bought back all of the sold pieces. Then Blum offered Warhol $1000 for the lot, which Warhol accepted.

9. KEEPING THE CANS TOGETHER CEMENTED THEIR LEGACY. 

Reflecting back on Campbell's Soup Cans, the BBC credited Blum's grouping of the 32 canvases as the cause for the public's shift from apathy to excitement over the series. "This made it different; it made it a statement," journalist Sara McCorquodale wrote. "The work seemed to speak of the spirit of a new America, one that thoroughly embraced the consumer culture of the new decade. Before the end of the year Campbell’s Soup Cans was so on-trend that Manhattan socialites were wearing soup can-printed dresses to high-society events." 

10. CAMPBELL’S BECAME A WARHOL STAPLE. 

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Campbell's Soup I, Campbell's Tomato Juice Box, Small Torn Campbell's Soup Can (Pepper Pot), Campbell's Soup with Can Opener and Crushed Campbell's Soup Can (Beef Noodle) are just a few of the variations Warhol created on the theme. 

11. THE WORK EVENTUALLY LAUNCHED WARHOL’S CAREER. 

His first solo exhibition was considered a flop, but Warhol was undeterred: He continued to churn out pop art inspired by Campbell's soups and other pop culture-inspired pieces. And the critical and public opinion began to turn in his favor. By October of that year, The New York Times was proclaiming his pieces satirical. 

The debate over his work raged on, but by the 1964 exhibit The American Supermarket, which took place on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Warhol was asking for $1500 for one of his other soup can paintings, a steep increase from his Ferus days. Art historians now regard the L.A. show as Warhol's breakthrough. The New York exhibition was just when the rest of us caught up with him. 

12. WARHOL HAD THE LAST LAUGH ON THOSE WHO HAD MOCKED HIM. 

The American Supermarket sold actual cans of Campbell's Soup autographed by the artist. The show's invitation blithely marketed their sale: "3 for $18, $6.50 each," a 2900 percent markup over what an unsigned can would cost in a traditional supermarket. 

13. BLUM CASHED IN WHEN HE SOLD THE SOUP CANS. 

Once he acquired the Campbell's Soup Cans, the curious art collector kept them for 34 years. During this period, he witnessed the rise of Andy Warhol, suffered the pain of the artist's unexpected death in 1987, and held onto the paramount pieces for another nine years before selling them to New York City's Museum of Modern Art for upwards of $15 million. 

14. THE MOMA CHOSE TO DISPLAY THE CANS IN A NEW WAY. 

Instead of mimicking Blum's grocery aisle approach, the museum hung the canvases in a grid formation. They were arranged in chronological order of the introduction of each Campbell's soup flavor, beginning with 1897's Tomato on the top left. Recently, though, the museum has moved Tomato to the bottom and given Manhattan Style Clam Chowder pride of place.

15. WARHOL SINCERELY LOVED CAMPBELL’S SOUP. 

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He famously said, “I used to drink it. I used to have the same lunch every day, for 20 years, I guess, the same thing over and over again.” He had internalized the soups both literally and metaphorically. Warhol's admiration of how the uniformity of each flavor was consistent from can to can inspired him to turn to photo-silkscreen printing following Campbell's Soup Cans's creation. This technique would become a signature of the artist's unique brand, including his iconic portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy.   

16. CAMPBELL’S LOVED WARHOL RIGHT BACK. 

Warhol made the pantry staple feel cool, and Campbell’s appreciated the favor. In 1966, the company paid homage to Campbell's Soup Cans with a limited edition dress. For just $1 and two can labels, a soup-loving fashionista could sport the paper Souper Dress. Today, these paper dresses can fetch upwards of $7500.

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Art
5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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Dan Bell
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Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

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