Marilyn Monroe: how much did Andy Warhol painting sell at auction, when was it painted, why is it so iconic?

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Shot Sage Blue Marilyn is one of four pieces by Andy Warhol, titled the Shot Marilyns

Andy Warhol’s iconic portrait of actress Marilyn Monroe set against a sage blue background, called Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, has become the most expensive work by an American artist sold at auction.

This is everything you need to know about the artwork - and where it got its name from.

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How much did the painting sell at auction?

Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn has become the most expensive work by an American artist sold at auction after it went under the hammer today, Monday 10 May.

It sold for $195 million US dollars (£158 Million) - the previous record was held by Jean-Michel Basquiat whose 1982 painting Untitled, of a skull-like face, sold for $111 million dollars (£90 million) at Sotheby’s in 2017.

Warhol’s portrait is also the most expensive piece from the 20th century to be purchased at auction, according to Christie’s auction house New York, where it was sold.

It came to Christie’s from the Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation Zurich, to which all proceeds from the significant sale will go.

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A woman takes a photo of Andy Warhol’s ‘Shot Sage Blue Marilyn’ during Christie’s 20th and 21st Century Art press preview at Christie’s New York on April 29, 2022 in New York City (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)A woman takes a photo of Andy Warhol’s ‘Shot Sage Blue Marilyn’ during Christie’s 20th and 21st Century Art press preview at Christie’s New York on April 29, 2022 in New York City (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)
A woman takes a photo of Andy Warhol’s ‘Shot Sage Blue Marilyn’ during Christie’s 20th and 21st Century Art press preview at Christie’s New York on April 29, 2022 in New York City (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

The foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of children globally by establishing support systems centred on providing healthcare and educational programmes.

Christie’s said the piece was bought by an unnamed buyer on Monday.

Alex Rotter, chairman of Christie’s 20th and 21st century art department, said: “It’s an amazing price.

“Let it sink in, it’s quite something.”

Speaking ahead of the auction, Georg Frei, chairman of the board of the Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation, said: “Andy Warhol’s picture of Marilyn, surely now more famous than the photograph… on which it is based, bears witness to her undiminished visual power in the new millennium.

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“The spectacular portrait isolates the person and the star: Marilyn the woman is gone; the terrible circumstances of her life and death are forgotten.

“All that remains is the enigmatic smile that links her to another mysterious smile of a distinguished lady, the Mona Lisa.”

When did Andy Warhol paint it?

Shot Sage Blue Marilyn was part of the Shot Marilyns series created by Warhol in 1964.

American pop artist Andy Warhol (1928 - 1987) at the Roundhouse in London, July 1971 (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)American pop artist Andy Warhol (1928 - 1987) at the Roundhouse in London, July 1971 (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
American pop artist Andy Warhol (1928 - 1987) at the Roundhouse in London, July 1971 (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images) | Getty Images

The Shot Marilyns consisted of four canvases, each square measuring 40 inches, of a painting of Marilyn Monroe, each shot through the forehead by a bullet.

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Each painting is set against a different coloured background - one red, one orange, one light blue and one sage blue.

Why is it so iconic?

Upon their completion, Warhol stored the paintings at the Silver Factory, which was his studio on East 47th Street in Manhattan.

Dorothy Podber, a friend of Factory photographer and Warhol collaborator Billy Name, saw the recently created paintings stacked against each other at the studio and asked Warhol if she could shoot them.

Warhol assumed that she meant with a camera and agreed - instead, Podber retrieved a small German pistol from her handbag and shot the stack of portraits.

Andy Warhol with his paintings(1928 - 1987), December 15, 1980 (Photo by Susan Greenwood / Liaison Agency)Andy Warhol with his paintings(1928 - 1987), December 15, 1980 (Photo by Susan Greenwood / Liaison Agency)
Andy Warhol with his paintings(1928 - 1987), December 15, 1980 (Photo by Susan Greenwood / Liaison Agency) | Getty Images

Name said that she “got Marilyn right between the eyes”.

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The works were then thus known as “The Shot Marilyns”. Warhol had originally painted a fifth Marilyn, set against a turquoise background, however it was not included in the stack of portraits that were shot by Podber.

Following the incident, Podber was subsequently banned from the Silver Factory for life.

In an interview with Joy Bergmann, Name said: “After [Podber] left Andy came over to me and said: “Please make sure Dorothy doesn’t come over here anymore. She’s too scary”.”

How much were the other Shot Marilyns sold for?

In 1967, the Blue Shot Marilyn was bought by business magnate Peter Brant, who was just 20 at the time. He bought the portrait for $5,000 at the time.

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Talking to the Wall Street Journal in 2013, Brant said: “That was a lot of money back then. A Cadillac cost $3,500.”

The Red Shot Marilyn was bought by Greek billionaire Philip Niarchos in 1994 at Christie’s for $3.63 million. Niarchos and his brother, Spyros, own their late father’s art collection which includes the likes of Pablo Picasso’s self portrait and Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear.

A view of atmosphere during Christie’s announcement that they will offer Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn painting of Marilyn Monroe (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)A view of atmosphere during Christie’s announcement that they will offer Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn painting of Marilyn Monroe (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
A view of atmosphere during Christie’s announcement that they will offer Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn painting of Marilyn Monroe (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images) | Getty Images

In 1998, the Orange Shot Marilyn was bought for $17.3 million before being sold to American businessman Kenneth C Griffin for a price rumoured to be in the realm of $250 million.

The Turquoise Marilyn, which was not shot by Podber, was sold to hedge fund manager Steve Cohen in 2007 for around $80 million.

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Cohen is one of the biggest art collectors in the world, with his collection including the likes of a Pollock drip painting and Damien Hirst’s 1991 piece titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living which consisted of a preserved tiger shark submerged in formaldehyde held in a glass display case.

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