The astronomical sum of 195 million for the portrait of Marilyn Monroe by Warhol
The star Marilyn Monroe portrayed by the American master of pop art Andy Warhol and this painting sold for 195 million USD on Monday night, May 9 in New York, has become the most expensive work of art of the twentieth century ever sold at public auction.
The famous painting is known as Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, which was made in 1964, two years after the tragic death of the glamorous Hollywood icon, sold in four minutes at the exact price of 195.04 million USD, including fees, in a crowded room at Christie’s headquarters in the heart of Manhattan, during the opening night of the spring auction.
Christie’s was crowded, with intermediaries hanging on to their phones to take orders from buyers. But it was from the room, where the work was displayed, that the last winning bid was made. According to several auction specialists present, it came from the American art dealer Larry Gagosian, owner of the galleries of the same name, but it was not known whether he was acting on his own behalf or that of a client.
The famous Christie’s, owned by the very wealthy French François Pinault, did not want to comment on the buyer. Shot Sage Blue Marilyn narrowly missed the USD 200 million estimates put forward by Christie’s prior to the sale, but that doesn’t stop it from beating the previous record for a 20th-century work at auction, Pablo Picasso’s Women of Algiers (version 0) (USD 179.4 million in May 2015).
There is an all-time record – all periods combined that remains held by the Salvator Mundi attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, auctioned in November 2017 for USD 450.3 million. The Andy Warhol portrait was part of a collection put up for sale Monday night by the Zurich-based Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation, named after Swiss art dealer and collector Thomas Ammann, a friend of Warhol who died of AIDS in 1993, and his sister Doris.
This sale, which reached 317 million USD realized on 34 of the 36 lots sold, will go to this foundation, which is dedicated “to improving the lives of children” through health and education, according to Christie’s. Painted in silkscreen ink and acrylic, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn is one of five three-by-four-foot portraits in bright, saturated, contrasting colors that the New York artist created in 1964 from a photo for the 1953 film Niagara. Pink face, blond hair and pronounced lipstick, the actress reveals an enigmatic smile, on a turquoise blue background.
The very reputed expert, Richard Polsky, who runs a company authenticating works of art, including Warhol, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn manages to combine two icons. “Marilyn Monroe was an icon in America (…) she’s part of popular culture. And Warhol, it’s like the Beatles, every year it’s more popular,” he points out. “When you put them together, it’s an explosion, it’s like a chemical reaction,” he added, to explain the success of the work.
In 1962, Warhol had already made works from the same photo of Marilyn Monroe: a painting with fifty faces, Marilyn Diptych, now on display at the Tate Modern in London, as well as a Gold Marilyn Monroe that graces the walls of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.
But four of the five 1964 Shots take their name from an incident that made them legendary. In Andy Warhol’s Manhattan studio, The Factory, a visiting artist, Dorothy Podber, asked if she could “shoot” the paintings. Warhol agreed, not understanding that she would then pull out a gun and shoot four portraits. To the naked eye, there is no trace of this incident on the work today. The record at auction for a Warhol was Silver Car Crash (double disaster), a monumental canvas depicting a car accident, which sold for 105 million USD in 2013