Tuesday marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of Louis Brandeis, and so in honor of the milestone, the university that bears his name was gifted a most unusual portrait of the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice. Andy Warhol’s “Louis Brandeis,” which the artist created as part of a series called “Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century,” was donated to Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum by the children of prominent New York art dealer Ronald Feldman and unveiled this week at a raucous party at the university’s student center.
Like many Warhol portraits, his “Brandeis” is based on a photograph, said Michael Rush, director of the museum. “It’s a very stately photograph,” Rush told the Forward, “but what he does is he adds geometric shapes of color, and sort of neon outlining around the figures. He created pop stars out of everybody with these portraits.”
Feldman runs a gallery in the SoHo area of New York City that is known for promoting edgy and provocative artwork. He developed a relationship with Warhol in the final decade of the artist’s life; Feldman ultimately commissioned him to create more than 50 paintings, drawings and prints. “Ten Portraits” was the first of these commissions, and it opened in the fall of 1980 at the Jewish Museum in New York. Feldman’s three children, Mark, Andrew and Julie, purchased “Louis Brandeis” from Warhol at the time. “It’s a painting that we really enjoyed, that was really special to us,” Mark Feldman told the Shmooze. “Obviously we’re sorry to see it go, but we really felt that, in honor of Louie Brandeis’s birth, this was the right time to donate it, and that Brandeis the university was the place that it belonged. We feel like it’s at home.”
In addition to Brandeis, Warhol’s “Ten Portraits” series included images of Kafka, Einstein, Gertrude Stein and Golda Meir. The series began as an edition of prints — 200 sets of 10 — and the paintings followed. Rush estimates that the Brandeis portrait is worth between $300,000 and $500,000.
Louis Brandeis made a name for himself as “the people’s lawyer.” He is credited with originating the concept of the right of privacy and with pioneering the use of sociological data to support a legal argument.
The party at which the painting was unveiled featured a crowd of several hundred people and a jazz ensemble. “It felt like a rock concert,” Rush said. “It was very Warholian.”