Uncle Sam 259 by Andy Warhol is a screenprint from the artist’s Myths portfolio created in 1981. Drawn to the dazzling world of Hollywood, Warhol made a name for himself by creating celebrity portraits starring the most prominent names in entertainment, including Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, and Mick Jagger. He soon expanded his collection to incorporate central figures in sports, science, and politics, with prints like Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, and Jimmy Carter. Warhol’s Myths explores the theme of celebrity from a fresh standpoint, with the inclusion of fictional characters. Most of these figures arise from familiar bedtime stories, allegorical tales, ancient folklore, or classic television shows and films; they capture the magic of America’s captivating and commanding past. One print stands apart from the rest: Uncle Sam 259. This print traverses beyond the realm of popular culture into propaganda and politics, as a long-standing symbol of American patriotism.
The reference images for some of Warhol’s Myths prints are Polaroid photos of his friends in costumes. Uncle Sam 259 depicts a lean man dressed in a swallow-tailed coat and colorful top hat. His features are rather plain and symmetrical, with no distinguishable wrinkles or creases, apart from his bushy eyebrows, stylized white hair, and chin whiskers. His expression remains neutral as he gazes out at the viewer. Unlike some prints in the Myths series that display darker backgrounds, such as Mickey Mouse and Superman, Warhol chooses a light wash of yellow to highlight the patriotic colors that adorn the man’s clothing. He also uses a silkscreen layer to trace over the man with red and blue accents—a technique he employed frequently to accentuate the subjects of his photographs. Uncle Sam 259 is decorated with a shimmering material called diamond dust, crushed up bits of glass that catch light and create a radiant and sparkly texture. The print is signed by Warhol in pencil in the lower margin.
It has been said that each of the Myths characters represent different pieces of Warhol’s personality. Uncle Sam 259 establishes the artist’s connection to America, more specifically his dissection of American society and everyday life. As the saying goes, “an America without Warhol is almost as inconceivable as Warhol without America.” The pop artist once explained: “Everybody has their own America, and then they have pieces of a fantasy America that they think is out there but they can’t see … You live in your dream America that you’ve custom-made from art and schmaltz and emotions just as much as you live in your real one.” Warhol left an ineradicable mark on the country’s cultural and artistic landscape. His artworks epitomize cultural themes predominant to post-war America, including the commercial process of consumerism, the cost and beauty of fame, politics, death, mortality, and disaster.