In the summer of 1986, real estate developer Olga Berde Mahl had the privilege of negotiating with Andy Warhol regarding his purchase of 123 Watts Street. She agreed to sell it to him at a discount and in return, he would paint a portrait of her. That building became one of the renowned Warhol factories. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Mahl was visited by one of Warhol’s assistants, who took polaroids of her, posing her in various positions, giving her all the attention of one of Warhol’s superstar models. The results appeared a few months later—not one, but two identical canvas paintings of her portrait, differing only in the background and accent colors.
These two paintings, titled Socialite, hung side by side in her loft for many years, until she moved in 1995. While the beige version was eventually sold to a collector, this rendition, with a sky blue background, has never before been displayed outside of her private dwellings. It is a classic representation of Warhol’s portraiture, in which he has emphasized her eyes with a stunning blue and draws the viewer’s gaze to her sophisticated smile. Warhol painted quite a few portraits of socialites during his career; in fact, it became a form of social validation and status to be one of his subjects. Many were commissioned works, which funded The Factory for many years, and the sitters were proud to be immortalized as part of Warhol’s notorious circle.