Andy Warhol’s 1964 silkscreen portrait of Marilyn Monroe, arguably one of the most recognizable images born of the last century, sold for a record-setting $195 million (including fees) at Christie’s New York on Monday evening. The result makes it the most expensive work by a 20th-century artist ever to be sold at auction.
It sold to art dealer Larry Gagosian, who was bidding in the room.
The painting, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964), depicts a press photo from Monroe’s 1953 noir film Niagara. The image is one Warhol used repeatedly in his work until his death in 1987. It derives from his “Shot Marilyn” portrait series, which Warhol produced after an incident at his downtown studio when he prompted a collaborator, Dorothy Podber, to shoot into a stack of canvases.
The result for this 1964 work almost doubled the artists’s previous auction record of $105.4 million, set when his 1963 canvas Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) sold at Sotheby’s in 2013. The present lot had been held in a private collection for five decades.
With the sale, Christie’s also rode a double-pronged pop culture wave of renewed interest in both Warhol and Monroe. This year, Netflix released a six-part documentary series The Andy Warhol Diaries looking at the artist’s personal life, as well as a documentary film, The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes. And at the Met Gala just last week, Kim Kardashian appeared in Monroe’s 1962 custom-made nude gown, which the star infamously wore when she sang a breathy “Happy Birthday” to John F. Kennedy, mere months before her death. Kardashian’s decision to wear the actual dress on the red carpet caused a stir among fashion archivists.
Four bidders—one on the phone with Christie’s co-chairman of Impressionist and Modern, Adrien Meyer, two others on the phone with New York specialists, and a bidder in the room—competed for the work, which was the last lot of the night.
Offered without a financial guarantee, the painting hammered at a bid of $170 million, going to Gagosian, the room bidder, for a final price of $195 million. The hammer price was $30 million below the $200 million estimate upon request that Christie’s had given it ahead of the auction.
The work was sold from the estate of Swiss art dealers Thomas and Doris Ammann, siblings who cofounded Thomas Ammann Fine Art in 1977, which long boasted a roster of high-profile collectors of modern and contemporary art. Doris, who survived her brother, ran the enterprise until her death at age 76 in March 2021.
Not only did Shot Sage Blue Marilyn bring a new Warhol record, it has also become one of the most expensive works of art ever sold at auction, surpassing Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (“Version O”). That painting sold at Christie’s for $179 million in 2015 to Qatari royal Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani. (The most expensive work ever to sell at auction was Salvator Mundi, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, for $450 million.)
The new benchmark for Warhol falls in lockstep with the values for blue-chip brand name artists, New York art appraiser David Shapiro told ARTnews. Works from the famed “Shot Marilyn” series, of which there are only five, Shapiro said, have long been highly sought after and there are only a handful of private collectors with the means to acquire one.
Though the milestone price brings Warhol to rival Picasso as the most valuable artists of the modern age, Shapiro said, “Within the greater market for trophy art, the figure of $200 million is very much in keeping with prices realized in the private dealer market for quite a few years.”