Andy Warhol’s iconic “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” set a new record Monday night as the most expensive 20th-century work of art ever sold at auction.
The 1964 work – a 40 square inch acrylic and silkscreen print on linen – sold at Christie’s in New York for $195 million (hammer price plus buyer’s premium), the auction house reported. The buyer, who was present at the auction, was Larry Gagosian. Before Monday, the auction record for a 20th century painting was $179.4 million for Pablo Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O)”, sold at Christie’s in May 2015.
“Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” is part of a series of five paintings, four of which are called the “Shot Marilyns” (more on that later, but suffice it to say he’s a performance artist and a firearm). Prior to the sale, it was estimated it would sell “in the region of $200 million”, said Johanna Flaum, head of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s – meaning the painting has also set a record as the highest pre-auction estimate for all. work of art, from any period, to date. The estimate tops Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” which was expected to sell for $100 million before Christie’s sale in November 2017. (It ended up costing $450 million.)
“Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” is one of Warhol’s most significant images of Monroe, a seminal work of his oeuvre and a cornerstone of Pop Art.
“When we think of the most iconic images in art history,” Flaum said, “we think of paintings like Da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ and Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ and ‘Les Demoiselles of Avignon’ by Picasso.’ It’s that same lineage – it’s that iconic image from the second half of the 20th century and, in a very Warholian way, has been reproduced endlessly.
Warhol never met Monroe in person, but painted her image dozens of times, beginning after she died of an overdose in 1962. There is the “Gold Marilyn Monroe” (1962), now on display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the 50-image “Marilyn Diptych” (1962), exhibited at the Tate Modern in London; and the “Marilyn (reverse series)”, several serigraphs made between 1979 and 1986, in which the tonal values of the works are reversed, like a photographic negative, among others.
In 1964, Warhol painted five works by Monroe – “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” was one of them – using a precise but laborious technique that resulted in a particularly beautiful, aligned serigraph.
“They have an extraordinary quality when you stand in front of them,” Flaum said of these works. “But it took him too long [to execute], frankly, like someone whose studio was called the factory, and he never went back to that technique. So these Marilyns are these incredible examples [of silk-screening] and are very rare.
The “Shot Marilyns” are aptly named. In the fall of 1964, Warhol had just created the five 40-square-inch Monroe paintings—one in sage blue, one described as light blue, and reds, oranges, and turquoises. Four of them (all but the turquoise) were stacked in his studio when a friend brought performance artist Dorothy Podber to Warhol’s studio. She asked to photograph all four works, and when Warhol complied, thinking she was going to take pictures, she pulled out a pistol and fired at the canvases, punching holes in several of them. They were later repaired, but the name stuck.
“Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” was originally purchased by New York Pop Art publicist and collector Leon Kraushar. Other owners include contemporary art dealer Fred Mueller, who acquired it in the early 1970s, and SI Newhouse of the Condé Nast empire, who also bought it around this time. The late Swiss art dealer Thomas Ammann – who co-founded Thomas Ammann Fine Art in 1977 in Zürich with his sister Doris Ammann – bought “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” in the early 80s.
Monroe’s work was offered for auction by the Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation, a new charity created after the death of Doris Ammann last year. Over 100 works from their private collection are up for sale at two live auctions (the second is a daytime sale on May 13). One hundred percent of proceeds from both sales, less buyers’ premiums, will go to the foundation’s efforts dedicated to the healthcare and education of underprivileged children internationally.
Setting another record: The event is the “highest philanthropic auction,” Flaum said, since Christie’s sold Peggy and David Rockefeller’s collection in 2018 for $835 million.
Monday’s sale is important for another reason: “Every time one of these 40-inch Marilyn paintings hits the market,” Flaum said, “it resets the market for Warhol, but also the whole market. of contemporary art”.
Many of Monroe’s Warhol paintings have come up for auction over the years, she added, “but they don’t hold a candle to this series in terms of significance.” They just aren’t of the same caliber in terms of rarity and demand.