• This 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing was the subject of a commissioned artwork by Andy Warhol.
• The exact car depicted in Warhol’s piece was recently found and restored by Brabus.
• The car is now being auctioned by RM Sotheby’s until Thursday 17 November.
Andy Warhol’s final commission was, oddly enough, for Mercedes-Benz. The famous pop artist was hired to create a series of portraits of Mercedes-Benz cars, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the company’s foundation. Originally intended as 80 portraits of 20 cars from Mercedes’ century-long heritage, Warhol completed just 49 of these pieces before he died in 1987.
The first of these portraits—the prototype, as it were—was of a Mercedes-Benz 300SL. After being lost for decades, the actual car in the Warhol painting was recently discovered and refurbished by Brabus Germany, a well-known restorer (and questionable customizer) of Mercedes vehicles. It is currently being auctioned by RM Sotheby’s in New York City.
Interestingly, neither Warhol nor Mercedes started the portrait project. It was the brainchild of Hans Mayer, Warhol’s German dealer. Recognizing the milestone of Benz’s centennial, Mayer personally commissioned two Benz paintings from Andy, hoping to sell the concept to the Mercedes buyer. Thinking that the iconic Gullwing would make the most convincing template, he insisted that it be the subject. But since these were already 30-year-old collectibles by then, a car was out of the question. Knowing Warhol’s love of appropriation, Mayer found a solution.
“There was a book called sports carGerman for sports car, and a photo of the 300SL was depicted in it,” said Constantin Buschmann, CEO and owner of Brabus. “Warhol immediately took that photo, without further research, and made it the one in that painting.”
Fortunately for future collectors, Warhol depicted the car with its license plate, EI-DR1, attached. Also fortunately, the car’s long-term owner retained this plate over the intervening decades, even as the car deteriorated in condition. This enabled the Brabus team to finally locate the vehicle. It also allowed the car to be authenticated, with the cooperation of the German DMV and the archives of Mayer’s gallery, Mercedes-Benz, as well as the Andy Warhol Foundation.
Gullwings are blue-chip collectibles, with prices for average examples running in the low-seven-figure range and climbing to double or quadruple that for concours-level vehicles like this, especially with celebrity ownership. RM Sotheby’s hopes that this particular car’s famous provenance, and direct connection to Warhol’s superstar status, will help to further dilute the hammer price with collectors of cars and/or contemporary art.
“If you take a can of Campbell’s soup, you don’t know which Warhol painted,” Buschmann said. “The only object that Andy painted that you can actually own is this particular Gullwing.”
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