In what may become one of the most expensive works of contemporary art ever to be sold at auction, a sixty-year-old portrait of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol will be sold at Christie’s this May. Coming to a 20th-century art evening sale in New York with an estimate upon request, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964) is expected to fetch a sum around $200 million. If it reaches expectations, the sale could nearly double Warhol’s current record of $105.4 million, set when his 1963 canvas Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) sold at Sotheby’s in 2013.
Measuring 3 feet square, the silkscreen painting depicts a press photo from Monroe’s 1953 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 in 1964 when a visitor shot into and damaged a stack of canvases.
The work is being sold from the estate of Swiss art dealers Thomas and Doris Ammann, siblings who cofounded Thomas Ammann Fine Art in 1977, a gallery known for attracting high-profile collectors of modern and contemporary art. Doris ran the enterprise until her death at age 76 in March 2021; her brother died nearly three decades earlier, in 1993.
All proceeds from the sale of the Warhol portrait will go to benefit their namesake foundation, a charitable entity established by the family’s trustees to benefit causes related to health care and education for children around the world. The Foundation is set up to run for a period of only 3 to 5 years until the funds from the Warhol sale are distributed in full, a Christie’s spokesperson said in a statement.
The sale of the Warhol portrait marks another boost to the post-pandemic art market, as major, long-awaited consignments become available from the holdings of collectors from the Silent Generation. Before Thomas Ammann acquired the work in the 1970s, it belonged to New York publisher and storied collector S.I. Newhouse. Warhol produced only five versions of the present painting; others remain in private hands of major collectors like American investors Peter Brant and Ken Griffin.
Regarding the work’s importance, Alex Rotter, Christie’s chairman of 20th- and 21st-century art, said in a press conference at the house’s New York headquarters,“this painting was a mystery to many people in the art world. When a painting like this comes up at auction, it changes the market not only for Warhol, but it changes the market itself.”