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A portrait of Marilyn Monroe painted by Warhol sold for 195 million dollars at auction, a record

A famous portrait of Marilyn Monroe by the American master of pop art Andy Warhol was sold for 195 million dollars Monday evening, May 9, in New York. It became the most expensive 20th-century work of art ever sold at public auction. This is “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn”, a painting executed in 1964, two years after the tragic death of the glamorous Hollywood icon. It left in four minutes at the exact price of $195.04 million, including fees, to a crowded room at Christie’s headquarters in the heart of Manhattan during the spring auction launch party.

Dozens of Christie’s intermediaries were present, hanging on their phones to take orders from buyers. But it is from the room, where the work was enthroned, that the last offer left, victorious. According to several auction specialists present on the spot, 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 behalf or that of a client. Christie’s, owned by the very large French fortune Fran├žois Pinault, did not wish to comment on the buyer.

“Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” narrowly fell short of the $200 million estimate advanced by Christie’s before the sale, which does not prevent it from breaking the previous record for a 20th century work at auction , “Women of Algiers (version 0)” by Pablo Picasso (179.4 million dollars in May 2015). The absolute record – all periods combined – remains held by the “Salvator Mundi” attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, auctioned in November 2017 for 450.3 million dollars.

Proceeds from the sale donated to a foundation

The portrait of Andy Warhol was part of a collection put up for sale on Monday evening by the Zurich-based Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation, named after Swiss art dealer and collector Thomas Ammann, a friend of Warhol’s who died of AIDS in 1993, and of his sister Doris. All proceeds from the sale, or $317 million made 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 Marylin” is one of five meter-by-meter portraits of vivid, saturated and contrasting colors that the New York artist produced in 1964 from a photo for the promotion of the film Niagara in 1953. Pink face, blond hair and pronounced lipstick, the actress reveals an enigmatic smile, on a turquoise blue background.

For Richard Polsky, who runs a company that authenticates works of art, notably Warhol, “Shot Sage Blue Marylin” succeeds in combining two icons. “Marilyn Monroe was an icon in America (…) she is part of popular culture. And Warhol, it’s like the Beatles, every year he is more popular”, he underlines. “When you put them together, it’s an explosion, it’s like a chemical reaction,” he added to AFP, to explain the success of the work.

A name taken from an incident

In 1962, Warhol had already made works from the same photo of Marilyn Monroe: a canvas with fifty faces, “Marilyn Diptych”, now on display at the Tate Modern in London, as well as a “Gold Marilyn Monroe” which adorns the walls of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. But four of the five “Shot” of 1964 take their name from an incident that makes their legend. In Andy Warhol’s studio in Manhattan, “The factory”, a visiting artist, Dorothy Podber, had asked if she could “photograph” the paintings (“shoot” in English). Warhol had accepted, not understanding that she was then going to pull out a revolver and shoot four portraits. To the naked eye, no trace appears today of this incident on the work.

The auction record for a Warhol belonged to “Silver Car Crash (double disaster)”, a monumental canvas depicting a car accident, which sold for $105 million in 2013.

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