Andy Warhol’s classic sage-blue backdrop painting of Marilyn Monroe is expected to fetch a record-breaking $200 million at auction this spring, according to Christie’s.
When Warhol’s 1964 “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” goes to the hammer in New York in May, the auction house anticipates it to become the most expensive 20th-century artwork ever sold.
The silk-screen piece is one of a series of Warhol portraits of Monroe known as the “Shot” series after a visitor to his Manhattan studio, known as “The Factory,” allegedly shot a gun at them.
Christie’s described the 40-inch-by-40-inch portrait as “one of the rarest and most transcendent images in existence” in a statement.
The portrait was described as “the most significant 20th-century painting to come to auction in a generation” by Alex Rotter, Christie’s head of 20th and 21st-century art.
In a statement, he added, “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.”
Following Monroe’s death from a drug overdose at the age of 36 in August 1962, Warhol began painting silkscreens of her. In 1964, the pop artist created five portraits of Monroe, all with equal size and a different coloured backdrop.
According to pop-art legend, four of them rose to prominence after a female performance artist named Dorothy Podber requested Warhol if she may shoot a stack of the portraits.
Warhol answered yes, mistakingly believing she meant to photograph the pieces. Instead, she pulled out a revolver and shot a bullet through Monroe’s image’s forehead.
According to legend, the bullet perforated four of the five canvasses, prompting Warhol to ban Podber from The Factory and eventually restore the paintings, which became known as the “Shot” series.
The “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” image shows her with a pink face, red lips, yellow hair, and blue eyeshadow against a sage-blue background. It was based on a promotional shot of her from Henry Hathaway’s 1953 film “Niagara.”
Rotter described the image, which was unveiled at Christie’s offices in Manhattan, as “categorically one of the greatest paintings of all time,” with Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” and Pablo Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.”
According to an AFP tally, just 14 paintings have sold for more than $100 million at auction, with others set to sell for the same amount during private sales.
Picasso’s “Women of Algiers,” which cost $179.4 million at auction in 2015, is the most expensive 20th-century artwork ever sold at auction. The record price paid for a Warhol is $104.5 million for “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)” in 2013. Sotheby’s sold the orange shot Marilyn for $17 million in 1998.
Christie’s is selling the art on behalf of the Zurich-based Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation, which will be the highlight of the auction house’s spring sales week.
The foundation, which works to enhance the lives of children all around the world, will get 100% of the revenues from the auction.