A famous portrait of actress Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) by American pop artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987) has sold for more than $195 million US ($281 million AUD), making it the most expensive 20th century artwork ever sold at public auction.
Shot Sage Blue Marilyn was produced by Warhol in 1964, two years after the death of the glamorous Hollywood star. It sold for exactly $195.04 million, including fees, in just four minutes in a May 9 auction at the headquarters of Christie’s auction house in New York.
Dozens of Christie associates were in the room clutching their phones as they took orders from potential buyers. The auction house owned by French magnate* Francois Pinault said in a brief press conference that the winning bid for the “Marilyn” was made from within the room.
Prior to the sale, the portrait was estimated to go for about $200 million US ($288 million AUD), according to Christie’s.
While falling just short of that threshold, it nevertheless beat the previous record for a 20th century work, Pablo Picasso’s Women of Algiers, which brought $179.4 million US ($258.5 million AUD) in 2015.
The all-time record for any work of art from any period sold at auction is held by Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which sold in November 2017 for $450.3 million US ($648.9 million AUD).
Warhol’s silk-screen work is part of a group of his portraits of Monroe that became known as the Shot series after a visitor to his Manhattan studio, known as The Factory, apparently fired a gun at them.
In a statement, Christie’s described the 100cm x 100cm portrait as “one of the rarest and most transcendent* images in existence.”
Christie’s head of 20th and 21st century art, Alex Rotter, called the portrait “the most significant 20th century painting to come to auction in a generation.”
“Andy Warhol’s Marilyn is the absolute pinnacle* of American pop and the promise of the American dream, encapsulating* optimism*, fragility, celebrity and iconography* all at once,” he said in a statement.
Warhol began creating silk-screens of Monroe following her death at just 36 in August 1962.
The pop artist produced five portraits of Monroe in 1964, all equal in size with different coloured backgrounds.
According to pop art legend, four of them gained notoriety* after a female performance artist by the name of Dorothy Podber asked Warhol if she could shoot a stack of the portraits.
Warhol said yes, thinking she meant she would photograph the works. Instead, Podber took out a gun and fired a bullet through the forehead of Monroe’s image.
The story goes that the bullet pierced four of the five canvasses, with Warhol banning Podber from The Factory and later repairing the paintings – henceforth known as the Shot series.
The Shot Sage Blue Marilyn portrait portrays her with a pink face, red lips, yellow hair and blue eye shadow set against a sage-blue backdrop.
It was based on a promotional photograph of her for the 1953 movie Niagara, directed by Henry Hathaway.
At an unveiling at Christie’s headquarters, Mr Rotter said the portrait stood alongside Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Picasso’s The Young Ladies of Avignon as “categorically one of the greatest paintings of all time.”
Only 14 paintings have sold at auction for more than $100 million US ($143.7 million AUD), according to an AFP tally, although others are expected to have changed hands for as much during private sales.
The previous auction record for a Warhol is the $104.5 million US ($150.2 million AUD) paid for Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) in 2013.
In 1998, Sotheby’s sold the Shot Orange Marilyn for $17 million US ($24.4 million AUD). Monday’s blockbuster sale headlines a spring sales week, on behalf of the Zurich-based Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation.
All proceeds of the sale will benefit the foundation, which works to improve the lives of children around the world.
- magnate: wealthy businessman, tycoon, mogul
- transcendent: exceeding the limits of ordinary experience, being better or more important
- pinnacle: summit, top, the most successful point
- encapsulating: capturing, expressing or showing the most important elements
- optimism: positivity, attitude of hopefulness, belief in favourable outcomes
- iconography: system or type of images used by an artist to convey particular meaning
- notoriety: achieving fame after a negative association or event
- Which painting by which artist holds the record price for any work from any period?
- Why was a collection of Marilyn Monroe artworks dubbed the Shot series?
- What is the auction record for a Warhol and for which artwork?
- How does Shot Sage Blue Marilyn portray Marilyn Monroe?
- How many paintings have sold at auction for more than $100 million, according to AFP?
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1. Why did you buy it?
Why do you think someone would pay so much money for this artwork?
Imagine that you are the new owner of Shot Sage Blue Marilyn. Write an explanation of why you think that this artwork is worth it.
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Visual Arts
Create an artwork inspired by this story, or something in the story.
Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Visual Arts
An adjective is a describing word. They are often found describing a noun. To start with look at the words before the nouns.
Search for all the adjectives you can find in the article.
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Pick three of your favourite adjectives from the text and put them in your own sentences to show other ways to use them.
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