Andy Warhol’s iconic 1964 Pop Art portrait of Marilyn Monroe is headed to the auction block, reports Kelly Crow for the Wall Street Journal. With a record-breaking asking price of roughly $200 million, the artwork—titled Shot Sage Blue Marilyn—is poised to become one of the most expensive 20th-century paintings ever sold at auction.
Per a statement from Christie’s, which will feature the painting in its May Marquee Week sales, all proceeds will go to the Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation, a Zurich-based charity that supports children’s health and educational programs.
“The spectacular portrait isolates the person and the star: Marilyn the woman is gone; the terrible circumstances of her life and death are forgotten,” says Greg Frei, chairman of the foundation’s board, in the statement. “All that remains is the enigmatic smile that links her to another mysterious smile of a distinguished lady, the Mona Lisa.”
Shot Sage Blue Marilyn is one of five similar portraits of Monroe created by the artist in 1964. Each features a different background color: red, orange, light blue, sage blue or turquoise. Four of the five (excluding the turquoise) are known collectively as The Shot Marilyns in honor of an infamous incident that took place at the Factory, Warhol’s New York City studio, in the fall of 1964.
As Charles Darwent wrote for the Independent in 2008, performance artist Dorothy Podber reportedly asked Warhol if she could shoot some of his paintings—a question he interpreted as shoot with a camera. After receiving permission from Warhol, Podber pulled out a pistol and shot a nearby stack of four Monroe silkscreens, striking “Marilyn right between the eyes,” in the words of Warhol friend Billy Name. (The turquoise one happened not to be in the stack and therefore escaped unscathed.) Warhol repaired the damaged works but banned Podber from the Factory for life.
Most of Warhol’s silkscreen works used basic screen-printing techniques to easily—and repeatedly—reproduce an image. To create the 1964 Monroe portraits, however, Warhol developed “a more refined and time-intensive [method] antithetical to the mass production he was best known for,” per the statement. The technique proved to be so difficult that the artist soon abandoned it.
The asking price for Shot Sage Blue Marilyn easily surpasses Warhol’s current auction record of $105.4 million, which was set by Car Crash (Double Disaster) in 2013. The Monroe portrait’s sale will represent the largest philanthropic auction since the collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller went under the hammer for $646.1 million in 2018, reports Katya Kazakina for Artnet.
Other works in The Shot Marilyns series have sold for a wide range of prices, both privately and at auction. Per the Wall Street Journal, a newsprint executive purchased the light blue version for $5,000 in 1967. A Greek shipping tycoon paid $3.6 million for the red version in 1994, while a hedge-fund manager shelled out $80 million for the turquoise painting in 2007. Most recently, another hedge-fund billionaire paid at least $200 million—and perhaps even closer to $250 million—for the orange portrait of Monroe in a private sale.
Art collectors Thomas and Doris Ammann purchased the sage blue painting from publishing magnate Si Newhouse nearly 40 years ago, according to Artnet. The siblings ran an art gallery in Zurich during the 1970s and later established the eponymous foundation that brought Shot Sage Blue Marilyn to Christie’s. Thomas died in 1993, while his sister died in 2021.
Alex Rotter, Christie’s chairman of 20th- and 21st-century, emphasizes the artwork’s value as “the most significant 20th century painting to come to auction in a generation.”
In the statement, he says, “Standing alongside Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Warhol’s Marilyn is categorically one of the greatest paintings of all time and it’s a once in a generation opportunity to present this masterpiece publicly at auction.”
A handful of paintings, including works by Abstract Expressionists Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, have sold for excess of $200 million in private sales, reports Oscar Holland for CNN. But only one painting has passed that mark at auction: Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which sold for over $450 million in 2017 and has been the subject of much debate in the art world.
The current auction record for a 20th-century painting is held by Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d'Alger (Version O), which sold for $179.4 million in 2015, per CNN.