Andy Warhol: Campbell’s Soup Cans on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York is one of the important Warhol art series. Photo: Scalleja – via Wikimedia Commons
MISSOURI — Bizarre. That is how art lovers are describing the recent theft of seven of Andy Warhol paintings that were on display at the Springfield Art Museum in Missouri. Measuring 37 inches (94 cm) by 24.5 inches (62 cm), the screenprint works were part of the Set Number 31 painting of the “Campbell’s Soup I” collection valued at over $500,000. The painting was part of The Electric Garden of Our Mind: British/American Pop exhibition at the Springfield Art Museum.
What makes this art heist unusual is that the thieves were very selective in what they took. Of the 10 prints of Campbell’s Soup Cans, the thieves took 7 and left 3 behind. The three soups artworks left behind by the thieves include Consommé Soup, Pepper Pot and Cream of Mushroom Soup. The selection has made many wonder if this was not the work of a soup connoisseur or people looking to complete their collection.
Soon after the theft was detected, the Museum announced that the show had been closed for security measures, and to let the FBI and Interpol investigators carry out their investigations. “Sally Scheid, a chair on the museum’s board could not hide his sadness. “We are shocked and totally saddened.” She said.
The FBI Art Crime Team is doing everything necessary to recover the stolen art. In addition to seeking help from the public, the Bureau has offered $25,000 as a reward for information leading to the recovery of the stolen Andy Warhol paintings.
The museum, however, remains open to the public. In a recent statement, the museum director Nick Nelson acknowledges the theft but notes that the museum is still open to art lovers. “The museum is working with the proper authorities and being proactive in our security efforts as we remain open to the public. We are confident that the measures we are taking will protect the museum’s treasures, while still making art accessible to our community,” he said.
Created in 1968, The Andy Warhol soup can screenprints were donated to the Springfield Art Museum for their permanent collection in 1985 by Roland K., Robert C. and Larry H. Greenburg. Anyone with information has been asked to contact the bureau’s Missouri division or the Springfield Office.
This is not the first time Andy Warhol’s artworks have been stolen by art thieves. In 2015, nine original Warhol prints were discovered to have been secretly stolen from a Los Angeles movie business and replaced with color copies. The art heist went undetected for many years. The original prints were valued at $350,000. The thieves took six silk-screen prints from the 1980 collection The Jews of The Twentieth Century. The print features Louis Brandeis, Martin Buber, George Gershwin, Sarah Bernhardt, Gertude Stein and Sigmund Freud. They have still not been recovered.
The thieves also took prints from the 1983 Endangered Species Collection, including Siberian Tiger, Bighorn Ram and Bald Eagle prints. Just when people had given up hope that any of the works would ever be found, two of the prints, Siberian Tiger and Bighorn Ram were returned to the police. It is however believed that the Bald Eagle print may have been sold. It is assumed that the print was sold through Bonhams auction house in October 2011. The auction house noted in 2015 that they were cooperating with the LAPD on the stolen Warhol prints.
It is not surprising that Andy Warhol’s artworks have been a major target for thieves. Warhol is the most celebrated pop art artist, and his works are valued in the thousands. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he came into the limelight in early 1960 for his approach to art and his artwork featuring Campbell Soup cans. Consisting of thirty-two canvases, each depicting a painting of one of the canned soups varieties the company offered at the time, the piece of a novelty. When the collection was showed on July 9, 1962, in a Fine Art exhibition in Los Angeles, it was a major attraction for art lovers and collectors. That show laid the foundation for pop art in the West Coast.
Born August 6, 1928, Andy Warhol was very innovative throughout his artistic career. He saw his studio as a factory where workers helped in the creation of artworks. A member of the gay community, Warhol began his artistic career as a commercial illustrator. His fascination for celebrity culture and its relationship with advertisement helped established pop art as a major art movement in the United States.
Using drawings, paintings, printmaking, photography, silk printing, sculpture and music, Warhol established a new way of looking at and appreciating art. He was a major influence for many other artists of his period, including Roy Lichtenstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring among many others. An extensive permanent collection and archive of Andy Warhol works can be found in The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvanian. This is the biggest museum in the United States dedicated to a single artist.