32 Cans of Soup? A Lawsuit?

Anastasia Fabian ’26 in Arts | May 28, 2023

Few paintings are as recognizable as Andy Warhol's iconic red and white soup print. Andy Warhol is a widely recognized artist specializing in pop and modern art. Born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, to Slovakian immigrant parents in 1962, Warhol has become the most influential Pop artist in American history. 
Warhol loved tomato soup so much that he said, “I used to have the same lunch every day, for 20 years, I guess, the same thing over and over again.” Warhol’s love of soup led him to begin hand painting the wall of 32 Campbell soup cans that would lead to his fame. These paintings stirred great controversy in the world of business and art and allowed Andy Warhol to become one of the biggest art celebrities of his time. 
Warhol made the soup paintings into prints using a photo silkscreen, doing so because he wanted to make his art more accessible to audiences. He stated, “I don’t think art should be only for the select few, I think it should be for the mass of the American people.” Warhol had the ability to use items from Pop culture to create paintings that merged the realms of advertising and art. Other than soup, he also painted other inspired by relics of American culture,  including Coke bottles, Marilyn Monroe portraits, lips covered in lipstick, Mickey Mouse, etc. He had created a personal style that is impossible not to recognize.  These paintings of soup have now become prints and posters that can be seen everywhere. 
The hate that these paintings received came from critics who questioned if the soup cans really qualified as art. People didn't know what to make of these painted soup cans that were so different from other art pieces usually shown in galleries during the sixties and seventies. When the paintings were first displayed in the L.A. Ferus Gallery, many people couldn't understand their meaning. A Los Angeles Times cartoon even made fun of the paintings by depicting two characters making jokes about the painting's lack of meaning. Despite this controversy, the paintings stayed in the Ferus Gallery. As the paintings started to gain more recognition, however, the Campbell Soup Company sued Warhol, accusing  Warhol of copying their design without permission. This started the back-and-forth between Warhol and Campbell that would last decades. But in July of 1962, John T. Dorrance, Jr., the son of the inventor of Campbell Soup, realized that Warhole’s paintings’ controversy attracted bad publicity to the company. So, Campbell ended up passing on legal action. Campbell decided to instead embrace Andy Warhole’s art which brought the brand recognition. Campbell even commissioned Warhol to paint the iconic soup can for the company chair. Once the company realized the amount of recognition Warhol had brought, the company sent packs of soup to thank him. The marketing manager wrote, “I have since learned that you like Tomato Soup, so I am taking the liberty of having a couple of cases of our Tomato Soup delivered to you” to Warhol. Shortly after, this infamous collection of 32 paintings of soup was acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest and displayed in the prestigious Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City.    
Today, these 32 soup can paintings have been widely recognized by the world as some of the most influential art pieces. People began to connect with the various themes in Warhol’s work. Some saw the paintings as a comforting wall of soup; some thought the paintings were an intelligent critique of capitalism. These soup cans were so simple that interpretations of the work were limitless, making these paintings so special. 
Warhol became one of the leading proponents of the Pop art movement of the 1960s, and his art is now well-loved by all. It's funny to think that 32 soup cans can lead to such an outcome!