In 1962, Andy Warhol exhibited his famous Campbell's Soup Cans paintings for the first time and cemented his place as a Pop Art powerhouse. Previously, Warhol had bridged his commercial and fine art efforts with paintings based on comic strips and advertisements, but he (rightly) felt that style had already been done by Lichtenstein and others. So why soup cans? Smithsonian has the story in an excerpt from Blake Gopnik's new book Warhol. From Smithsonian:
Warhol's final breakthrough into '60s Pop came through an accidental inspiration from a minor dealer on the New York scene named Muriel Latow. She was a flamboyant decorator, three years younger than Warhol, and had hopes of becoming a serious art dealer. Latow has gone down in history as Pop Art's most important, if accidental, muse. As the story is told—in one of its many, mostly incompatible versions—Latow went to a dinner at Warhol's house in the fall of '61 to console him for having been one-upped by Oldenburg and Lichtenstein and others. "The cartoon paintings…it's too late," Warhol is supposed to have said. "I've got to do something that really will have a lot of impact, that will be different enough from Lichtenstein." He begged his guests for ideas, and Latow came up with one, but wouldn't deliver until Warhol handed over a check for $50. "You've got to find something that's recognizable to almost everybody," she said. "Something you see every day that everybody would recognize. Something like a can of Campbell's Soup."
The next day, Warhol — or his mother, in one telling — ran to the Finast supermarket across the street and bought every variety of Campbell's Soup that it carried; he later checked this inventory for completeness against a list he got from the soupmaker.
Warhol by Blake Gopnik (Amazon)