Banksy, Mona Lisa and Campbell Soup
Banksy & Art History Volume I


“The bad artists imitate. The great artists steal.”

This famous quote attributed to Picasso refers to the fact that throughout art history, artists have found their inspiration in the work of their predecessors. Pablo Picasso was obsessed with a famous painting by Eugene Delacroix entitled “Women of Algiers.” Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat all referred to art history within their practice – they used it to guide their work.
Banksy is certainly no exception. His work makes extensive reference to art history, but of course always with a twist. Going through some of Banksy‘s works, whether that be murals, prints, or originals is a fun way to learn more about Art History. We will regularly publish editorials analyzing the links between masterworks from art history and Banksy.


1. Andy Warhol
2. Keith Haring
3. Jean-Michel Basquiat
4. Leonardo da Vinci
5. Rembrandt
6. Johannes Wermeer


1. Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was a successful magazine and ad illustrator who was considered to be one of the leading artists of the Pop Art movement. He ventured into a wide variety of art forms, including performance art, filmmaking, video installations, writing, and controversially blurred the lines between fine art and mainstream aesthetics. Some of the most famous artworks by Andy Warhol are the numerous variations he created based on Campbell’s Soup cans, and of course his portraits of Marilyn Monroe.
Tesco Value Soup Can presents a pastiche of Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s Soup Can paintings. Tesco Value Soup Can is a remarkable, entirely hand-painted work on canvas (the majority of Banksy’s canvasses are made with stenciled spray paint). Significantly, this mirrors Warhol’s very first Campbell’s Soup Cans – works that were painstakingly executed by hand shortly before Warhol turned to screen-printing for a more facile and factory-style mode of production.
Banksy, Tesco Value Soup Can, 2004
Oil on canvas, 121.9×91.5 cm (48×36 inches)
In 1962, Warhol took the universally treasured and quintessentially American design of an inexpensive consumer product and turned it into a paragon of high art; 40 years later, Banksy adapted Warhol’s all-American democratic symbol and made it relevant to his contemporary moment. Banksy’s Tesco Value Soup Can draws on a more affordable version of Warhol’s beloved Campbell’s soup; marketed as part of the UK supermarket’s Value range, this product utterly lacks the stylish branding that made Campbell’s soup a symbol of the booming post-war economy in the USA. By choosing Tesco supermarkets’ own-brand of tomato soup and its basic no-bones packaging – a stark contrast to comparative luxury of Campbell’s design classic – Banksy’s painting speaks to a bread-line culture of austerity and welfare. Herein, Banksy transforms an icon of post-war American affluence into a pithy pedestrian emblem of twenty-first-century cost-cutting.
Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans are perhaps the most well-known and iconic images in American modern art. Initially created as a series of 32 canvases in 1962, the soup cans gained international acclaim as a breakthrough in Pop Art. When the paintings were first exhibited, they were displayed together like products at a grocery store. Each soup can corresponded to a different flavor, and resembles the actual image of the red and white Campbell’s Soup cans. Though they appeared identical to the well-known grocery items, the artist’s handiwork is made obvious through the slight variations in the lettering and in the hand-stamped fleur-de-lis symbol on the bottom of each can. This juxtaposition between pure replication and the artist’s hand makes the series all the more intriguing.
Andy Warhol, Soup Cans, Museum of Modern Art
In his Kate Moss, Banksy again pays homage to Andy Warhol’s iconic Marilyn Monroe suite, both in its subject and its formal execution. Banksy combines the features of Moss and Monroe, superimposing Monroe’s hair onto a grey-scale portrait of Moss, then staining it with vibrant colors. Warhol’s portraits of Monroe, like many of his other works, were both a glorification of fame and a satirical comment on it as a spectacle. Kate Moss has been described as one of the most recognizable faces of her time (perhaps Banksy’s generation’s Marilyn Monroe), appearing on over 300 magazine covers and featuring in Time Magazine’s list of the world’s “100 most influential people” in 2007. She contributed to the history of fashion for 25 years, and her image became part of global popular culture.
Banksy, Kate Moss, 2005
Screen-print on paper, 70x70cm
The Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) screen-prints are one of Andy Warhol’s most revered, collectable, and recognized portfolios. Known for his fascination for the glitz and glamour that fame offers, Marilyn Monroe was one of Warhol’s earliest muses. Warhol used a publicity shot from Marilyn’s movie Niagara in 1953, taken by Gene Korman. Marilyn reached fame as an actress, but Warhol was fascinated about how her fame grew exponentially after her tragic death in August 1962. Warhol immortalized the actress in an almost propaganda-like nature. It has been said that Warhol created an icon out of an icon.
In Sid Vicious, Banksy captures iconic Sex Pistol vocalist and bass player. The Sex Pistols are said to have initiated the Punk Movement in the UK and they have been an inspiration to many alternative rock musicians since.
This artwork is clearly inspired by Warhols Marilyn Diptych, showing Monroe’s portrait in a repetition of 25 screen prints on canvas. In Banksy’s version, the glamorous Marilyn is replaced by the notorious bass guitarist and singer of the Punk band Sex Pistols. Banksy presents a satire of the values associated with the Punk movement, such as anti-establishment views, anti-commercialism, and individualism since Pop Art, on the other hand, is interlinked with notions of popular culture, consumerism, and the mainstream.
Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962
Acrylic paint on canvas, 205×289 cm (81×114 inches)



2. Keith Haring

Keith Haring (1958-1990) was an American artist whose pop art and graffiti-like work grew out of the New York City street culture of the 1980s. Over the years, Haring’s work has grown in popularity. The spontaneous drawings in the NYC subway, chalk outlines of figures, dogs, and other stylized images on blank black advertising-space backgrounds have become the stuff of legend. He would often paint his figures on the lower part of the subway walls while seated on the floor.
In Choose Your Weapon, Banksy portrays British disaffected youth and gang culture whose aggressive dogs have become weaponry in their quest for power. The minimalist animal, painted in a hieroglyphic all-white silhouette, pays tribute to Haring’s famous Barking Dog. Maybe Banksy invites us to “Choose Our Weapon” for peace and freedom. Like Banksy, Haring too rose to prominence through his street art, making him an important influence for Banksy. Indeed, one can also see this work as an illustration of the artist’s power in using his art and talent to convey messages.
Choose Your Weapon (Fluoro Green), 2010
Screen-print in colors on wove paper
Edition: 25 signed
The “Barking Dog” featuring colorful canines with their mouths open mid-yap—is one of Keith Haring‘s most universally recognizable symbols, and remains a testament to his dedication to accessible art.
The dog’s simple, cartoonish shape references Haring’s interest in Egyptian hieroglyphics -how humans from that time communicated their experiences through universal shapes and signs. Haring’s “Barking Dogs” can be found throughout his career, from some of his earliest Subway Drawings, to merchandise sold in his Pop Shops.
In 1990, just a few months before his early death, Haring chose to immortalize his “Barking Dog” motif alongside four more of his most celebrated symbols in a series of lithographs entitled “Icons” – which further cemented the graphic canine as one of the most important symbols in his body of work.



3. Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) is now regarded as one of the most important artists of the 20th century. His art was as unique as it was extraordinary, forming a rare, early bond between street art and the international institutions of the art world. Basquiat created a form of symbols in his career that he used across multiple works. One of the most famous elements of his iconographic set was his “Crown”.
Crowns quite obviously symbolize royalty, which in itself connects to power and influence. Artists, for many centuries, have depicted ruling monarchs in portraiture, associated with themes of strength and confidence. Many artists have progressed in their own careers due to their connections to a ruling monarch. 
Banksquiat depicts a Ferris wheel in which all the carriages have been replaced by Basquiat’s famous crown motif. By referencing Basquiat so openly, Banksy seems to be aligning himself with the tradition of street art as high art, which arguably has its origins in the work of Basquiat whose career was launched by his many interventions in the urban environment. Banksy makes further reference to street art history by choosing to print his design in grey with the crowns outlined in a chalky white against a black ground. This clearly refers to another icon of street, Keith Haring, who started his career with a series of subway drawings, rendered in chalk on empty advertising panels in the New York Metro system. 
Banksquiat comments on the excesses of late capitalism that allows artworks to be commodified. At the same time, there is a paradox at play; in order for art to be accessible to all – which is perhaps central to Banksy’s mission as an artist, as well as that of Haring and even also Basquiat – art must be reproduced and shared rather than held ransom by a handful of the elite who own the original artwork or the intellectual property. In this way, Banksy cleverly comments on, as the original website description puts it, “the relentless commodification of Basquiat in recent times – by crassly adding to the relentless commodification of Basquiat in recent times.”
This commodification of artworks was exemplified by the opening of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) itself, which began life as a showroom in Croydon in October 2019, intended to publicize the launch of a new online Banksy’s “homewares brand.”
While thousands of fans attempted to buy something from the store, many were disappointed as they found that GDP did not operate as a traditional retail model but instead required the prospective buyer to enter a lottery system in order to acquire one of the products. In this way, Banksy opened the floodgates to the commodification of his own work while still retaining a certain amount of control over who his primary sales went to.
Banksquiat (Grey), 2019
Screen-print on board
Edition: 300 signed
Basquiat studied and appreciated traditional European art, and his inclusion of crowns in his work was his attempt to connect his visual language with some of the art of the past, while simultaneously playing with the concepts of power and influence.
Even though there are layers of meaning behind the crown imagery within Basquiat’s oeuvre, they all relate to Basquiat’s assertion that Afro-Caribbean is the “new monarchy,” as illustrated by numerous allusions to the finest black athletes in the world such as Sugar Ray Robinson, or to the legends of jazz (a genre of music that Basquiat loved, and played). Trumpet, for example, is among many of Basquiat‘s works that not only pay homage to the legends of jazz, but also tell a story of black struggle at a time of widespread racism.
Basquiat, Trumpet, 1982

“Portrait of Basquiat being welcomed by the Metropolitan police – an (unofficial) collaboration with the new Basquiat show.” portrays two police officers strip-searching a figure as the dog looks on. It is largely inspired by Basquiat’s famous 1982 painting Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump.
Is this the scenario that Basquiat would have encountered as a black artist had he not passed away too young?
The exhibition proved to be the most successful in 35 years of art shown at the Barbican Center with 216,389 visitors. It also received extra publicity because of the Banksy murals outside.
The Barbican Centre Board agreed to a long-term strategy to protect the street level murals on the side of the Barbican Exhibition Centre. They have since been encased with Perspex in order to preserve them for future generations to appreciate.
As soon as the mural had been identified as a Banksy, security was quickly organized, for fear that city cleaning teams might erase the mural. US artist Danny Minnick subsequently added his own work to the mural.


4. Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1529) was an Italian polymath who is widely considered one of the most diversely talented individuals ever to have lived. While his fame initially rested on his achievements as a painter, he also became known for his notebooks, in which he made drawings and notes on various scientific ideas and inventions; these involve a variety of subjects including anatomy, astronomy, botany, cartography, painting, and paleontology.
Leonardo da Vinci is revered for his technological ingenuity. He conceptualized flying machines, a type of armored fighting vehicle, concentrated solar power, an adding machine, and the double hull. Relatively few of his designs were constructed or even feasible during his lifetime, as the modern scientific approaches to metallurgy and engineering did not exist at that time, and were only able to be realized years after his passing.
Leonardo da Vinci is widely considered one of the greatest painters of all time, despite the fact that very few of his paintings have survived the passage of time. Of course, Mona Lisa is considered the most famous portrait ever made, and we are fortunate to have it. The Last Supper is likely the most reproduced religious painting of all time. In 2017, Salvator Mundi sold at auction for $450.3 million, setting a new record for the most expensive painting ever sold at auction.
Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, c. 1503-1506
Oil on poplar panel, 77×53 cm (30×21 inches)

Mona Lisa has called the Louvre Museum her home since 1797, and has approximately 6 million visitors per year. As such, most visitors only get to see her in quite a crowded room.
Bold and irreverent, Banksy’s Mona Lisa is wrestled from her original context, blasted in monochrome spray paint and endowed with an AK 47.
Mona Lisa with AK47, 2000
Spray-paint stencil on board, 122×122 cm (48×48 inches)
Recalling famous appropriations of the Mona Lisa by Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, Banksys satirical, subversive and darkly humorous appropriation is in line with some of his recurring themes – most notably anti-war and anti-violence.
At the same time, its subject retains some of the original painting’s enigmatic qualities: Mona Lisa is both attacker and target, her smile betraying nothing.
Banksy would return to the Mona Lisa over the years, painting her in a variety of profane guises. In 2004, as part of a stunt, he hung one of his own versions of the painting in the Louvre Museum (home to the original work) replacing the subject’s face with a yellow smiley emoticon.
Marcel Duchamp has created one of the most famous irreverent appropriations of Mona Lisa with his L.H.O.O.Q artwork. First conceived in 1919, the work is one of what Duchamp referred to as “readymades” or, more specifically, a rectified ready-made. The readymade involves taking mundane, often utilitarian objects not generally considered to be art and transforming them, by adding to them, changing them, or (as in the case of his most famous work, Fountain) simply renaming and reorienting them and placing them in a different setting. In L.H.O.O.Q., Marcel Duchamp used a cheap postcard reproduction of Mona Lisa, onto which the artist drew a moustache and beard in pencil and appended the title.
The name of the piece, L.H.O.O.Q., is a pun, like Banksy is known to create, as the letters pronounced in French sound like “Elle a chaud au cul,” translating literally “She has a hot ass.” “Avoir chaud au cul” is a well-known and used popular expression in France, implying that a woman has sexual restlessness. In a late interview, Duchamp gives a loose translation of L.H.O.O.Q. as “there is fire down below.”

For more than 500 years, Mona Lisa has been one of the most recognizable paintings in the world. Since her creation in 1503, she has become the ultimate Pop icon, so it is unsurprising that in 1963, while on a wildly successful tour of the United States, Mona Lisa caught the attention of Andy Warhol – the ultimate chronicler of popular culture. Inspired as much by the ubiquitous nature of the image as its historical importance, Warhol produced a series of canvases using Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting as his inspiration. One of the largest works in this group, Colored Mona Lisa, is also regarded as one of the most striking and significant paintings of the artist’s early career.
By assembling this progression of multicolored images of the Mona Lisa, Warhol not only commented on the ubiquitous nature of one of the most reproduced painting images in modern society, but also on the means of production. Within the surface of this large-scale canvas we can see evidence of the artist’s exceptional ability to capture the zeitgeist of a particular moment in time and provide an early example of his prescient ability to identify the emergence of a nascent age in which high art and consumer culture would become inextricably linked.

5. Rembrandt

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669) was a Dutch painter, printmaker, and draughtsman. He is generally considered one of the greatest artists in the history of art and the most important in Dutch history. Unlike most of his peers, Rembrandt worked in a wide range of styles and subject matter, from portraits to landscapes, genre, allegorical and historical scenes, biblical and mythological themes, as well as animal studies.
Banksy, Rembrandt with Googly Eyes, 2009
Googly eyes and acrylic on canvas, 102.3×77 cm (40 1/4 x 30 3/8 inches)
Banksy recreates Rembrandt’s well-known Self Portrait at the Age of 63 (1669) and covers the expressive eyes, which Rembrandt’s portraits are best known for, with googly eyes. This simple act undermines the painting itself and encourages the viewer to question the nature of art, creating a work that is not only witty, but visually amusing. Poignantly, in this case, Banksy has altered a work in much the same way he does when he throws up an illegal street piece on a building. However, this practical joke has a deeper meaning.

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait at the Age of 63, 1669
Oil on canvas, 86×70.5cm (33.9×27.8 inches)

Self-Portrait at the Age of 63 is one of three from Rembrandt produced in 1669, and one of the last in his series of around 80 self-portraits, painted in the months before his death in October 1669. Despite the nearness of death, and his aging face, Rembrandt creates the impression of a self-assured, confident, calm artist. It was bought by the London National Gallery in 1851.


Banksy’s appropriation of  Rembrandt’s internationally beloved self-portrait invites the viewer to question why this act seems so audacious, why this painting is valued so highly, and furthermore, what constitutes “great art?” As a street artist, Banksy is no stranger to graffiti being considered “low art” or even “vandalism.” Consequently, he aims to subvert what we consider “high art” by taking a famous painting, catching the viewer’s interest with attention-grabbing googly eyes, and creating a piece that is entertaining, thought-provoking, and progressive.

6. Wermeer

Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) was a Dutch painter from the Baroque period who specialized in domestic interior scenes from middle class life. During his lifetime, he was a moderately successful painter, mostly recognized in The Hague in the Netherlands. Vermeer worked slowly and with great care, and frequently used very expensive pigments. He is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and the use of light in his work.
Girl with a Pearl Earring is an oil painting dated c. 1665, and is considered to be Wermeer’s masterpiece. Going by various names over the centuries, it became known by its present title towards the end of the 20th century because of the large pearl earring worn by the girl in the portrait. The work has been in the collection of the Mauritshuis in The Hague since 1902 and has been the subject of various literary and film enterprises. In 2006, the Dutch public selected it as the most beautiful painting in the Netherlands.
Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665
Oil on canvas, 44.5×39 cm (17.5×15 inches)
Known as the “Mona Lisa of the North,” this painting represents the best of Dutch art, and has become one of art history’s most beloved paintings. Girl with a Pearl Earring portrays a young woman sitting before a dark backdrop. Though seemingly inconsequential, this stark and shallow background beautifully contrasts the figure’s cream-colored skin and translucent eyes, which are fixed on the viewer. In addition to an exquisite blue and yellow turban, she wears a large, tear-shaped pearl earring.
Girl with a Pearl Earing is actually known as a tronie, which is a painting of an individual intended to be used as a study. Often, artists opted to portray these figures in “exotic” garments, as rendering opulent fabric allowed them to demonstrate their advanced painting techniques.
A tronie does not depict a specific person. Instead, it shows an anonymous girl dressed in opulent clothing who, “like a vision emanating from the darkness,” art historians Arthur K. Wheelock and Ben Broos explain in the Wermeer catalogue, “belongs to no specific time or place.”

Girl with a Pearl Earring is also a testimony of Vermeer’s advanced technique and mastery of the treatment of light and color. Vermeer is best known for his ability to create contours and forms using light rather than line. This distinctive approach to modeling is particularly evident in the figure’s face, which Vermeer rendered in planes of light and shadow. To achieve this aesthetic, Vermeer followed a meticulous four-step technique popular with 17th-century artists. 

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