NEW CANAAN — A legendary work by Pop Art master Andy Warhol — that garnered critical acclaim, provoked international controversy, been endlessly copied and was itself once the object of a landmark lawsuit which charged that Warhol had plagiarized the work of another artist — will be on public view in New Canaan this winter.

A 1970 image from Warhol’s “Flowers” series is to be featured in “Lasting Impressions,” a group show of important contemporary prints, at Heather Gaudio Fine Art on Elm Street. The show’s opening reception takes place on Dec. 2, from 5 to 7 p.m., on the evening of the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce Holiday Stroll.

When the flower images were first created in the mid 1960s, “they immediately became cultural icons,” said Rachael Palacios, an associate at the gallery.

According to Palacios, around 1962 Warhol broke with his earlier commercially-inspired Pop Art — Campbell’s Soup cans and Coke bottles — for which he was then best known and became preoccupied with more sinister subject matter. “He had been doing his Disaster series, images of electric chairs, car crashes and Marilyn [Monroe]. One of his friends, the curator Henry Geldzahler, went to visit him at his studio and saw all of these dark images and told him, ‘Enough dealing with death, do something lighter like these flowers.’”

The blossoms to which Geldzahler referred were hibiscus flowers, photographed for the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography by Patricia Caulfield, executive editor of the magazine. The original shot depicted seven flowers and was shown in a foldout exemplifying the different colors offered by varying chemical processes. In his appropriations, Warhol opted for some subtle changes.

“Warhol chose to crop them in square, so there is no fixed orientation,” Palacios said. Resulting were the images of four vividly contrasting hibiscus flowers on which Warhol based an entire series, the second part of which comprised 250 unique 36-by-36-inch silk screen prints in 10 different color combinations.

More Information

“Lasting Impressions,” which will also include prints by Ross Bleckner and Donald Sultan, is scheduled to run through Feb. 4.

Warhol’s images quickly became a hit though, according to Palacios, not necessarily among the gallery-goers of the time, who were often baffled by the superficiality of his work.

“Think the Flower Power movement, hippies, the late ’60s and ’70s. The images themselves became stickers, posters, T-shirts. So Warhol’s appropriated image became reappropriated into the cultural mainstream,” Palacios said . Warhol, Palacios said, took photographs and made lithographs of his Flowers and disseminated them, further obscuring the image’s origin.

It was not until the 1980s that Warhol had a critical resurgence, the evidence of which can be seen in the current popularity and valuation of his work.

International art dealer James Barron, who has sold Warhol’s Flowers from his Litchfield County gallery, said of the Flowers’ appeal, “They exemplify all Warhol was about: Taking an ordinary object, reproducing it and then turning it into an icon. What could be better than an ordinary flower, from an ordinary photo, that somehow, through Warhol, becomes a precious icon?”

Still, the author of the ordinary photo took issue. Caulfield charged plagiarism and sued the artist, ultimately settling out of court. The controversy goes to the heart of an oft-repeated criticism of Warhol’s work as excessively derivative.

“Warhol, like others in his generation and beyond, began appropriating imagery and recontextualizing it to their artistic practice, blurring the line between reappropriation and copyright infringement,” Palacios explained.

Though some may believe it to be bordering on plagiarism, the Flower series is in high demand among collectors. Ironically, finding an authentic example of Warhol’s Caulfield-inspired hibiscus flowers can be a challenge.

“These prints are highly coveted by collectors and there are many copies out there that are not original. So finding a good one with a good provenance in very good condition can be difficult, hence their desirability and market value,” Palacios said.

justin.papp@scni.com; @justinjpapp1