Signed and titled “4 Marilyn’s Andy Warhol” on the reverse.
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Provenance Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich Gian Enzo Sperone, Turin Galleria Galatea, Turin Peder Bonnier, New York and Anders Malmberg, Malmö Sotheby’s, London, Post War and Contemporary Art, December 3, 1992, lot 32 Ursula Ströher, Morges, Switzerland Sotheby’s, New York, Contemporary Art Part I, November 17, 1998 Private Collection, New York
Exhibited Turin, Galleria Galatea, Andy Warhol, November 20, 1972 - February 10, 1973 Boissano, SV, Centro International di Sperimentazioni Artitiche Marie-Louise Jeanneret, Astrattismo e Pop Art, 1983
Literature Turin, Galleria Galatea, Andy Warhol, 1972-1973, no. 5 (illustrated) R. Crone, Andy Warhol, New York: Praeger, 1976, no. 54 (illustrated) Centro International di Sperimentazioni Artitiche Marie-Louise Jeanneret, Astrattismo e Pop Art, Boissano, SV, 1983, no. 16 (illustrated) G. Frei and N. Prinze, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné of Painting and Sculpture 1961-1963, cat. no 271, 2004, p.240 and 247 (illustrated)
“The most exciting attractions are between two opposites that never meet.” ANDY WARHOL, 1979
The relationship between an artist and his muse has always been sacred. Tracing its roots to Greek mythology, the muse has been enshrined in Western culture as the most primal force of creation. Even the most secular of artists have given credence to the concept of the muse as a spirit of inspiration. Andy Warhol’s own muse, the singular force behind his next thirty years of artistic production, came in the form of a iconic movie star, a woman both beautiful and tragic—the two staples of Andy Warhol’s early work. Though he was nearly silent when it came to his reasons for artistic production, Warhol famously remarked that he need not comment upon his work, for on the surface of his work is where he resides. If we follow his wish, and endeavor to examine his oeuvre for clues as to his beliefs and aims as an artist, we can find no more definitive answer than Marilyn Monroe. Though Monroe and Warhol never exchanged a single word or glance, their relationship seems natural—fated, even. She embodied the purity of celebrity and beauty that Warhol so admired, and, though he never painted her until after her death, he came to be her most capable and skilled portraitist. Four Marilyns, 1962 is Warhol’s Marilyn masterpiece: exuberant, tragic, and uncompromisingly beautiful.
Warhol’s prescience as an artist may appear to some as inherent genius, but it was rather his ability to be silently attuned to the changing ways of the world that brought forth his remarkable work. From his early days as a pioneer in graphic design to his first forays as a fine artist, he exhibited what can only be described as impatience for pretention. Breaking free from his life as a successful illustrator for ad men of the 1950s, Warhol strove to create work that piqued his interests yet matched his developing, distanced persona. He found a marriage between these two dissonant elements in his earliest stand-alone art work, namely the Campbell’s Soup Cans and cartoon paintings of the first year of the 1960s. The advertising paintings soon followed, and Warhol’s portrayal of Coca-Cola and other slogans of Americana brought him his initial burst of popularity. Considered some of the first major works of Pop Art, Warhol was simultaneously able to remove himself from his subjects yet expound upon their consumerist nature. But Warhol found it difficult to address the notion of his newfound celebrity, and, thus, he began his less recognized but no less successful artistic endeavor—the construction of a persona that would shroud his work in mystery and contribute to the popularity of his art.
The combination of Warhol’s charmingly combative media personality and his premiere show at the Ferus Gallery in summer 1962 led to a framework for his own celebrity. The show closed on August 4, 1962.
The next day, Marilyn Monroe was dead. Warhol was enraptured with her during her lifetime, and, in the days following her death, her near mythical heights of iconicity became all the more apparent through the media’s suppositions as to her cause of death and the waves of mourning from her world-wide fan base. With the outpouring of media attention, Warhol recognized that Monroe was a distinct paradigm of the marriage of design and celebrity culture: a seamless beauty that dominated Hollywood in the 1950s. Yet as he witnessed on every television screen and newsreel, Monroe had become a fractured, multiplied figure, replicated on the screen as one replicates an industrialized part. Warhol then chose to redirect her commodifcation back into the realm of art.
For Warhol, this act of creation was almost reactionary. As opposed to the graphic descriptions of Monroe’s drug addiction and death that were being proliferated in August 1962, Warhol chose to immortalize Monroe in mid-blossom. Diving into his scrapbook, Warhol found a publicity still of Monroe from 1952, published to promote the 1953 film, “Niagara”. At the time, Monroe had just publicly justified her infamous nude photographs from the premier issue of Playboy in interviews, citing her financial struggles as a young actress. The public chose sympathy, and her initial chastisement transformed into embrace. Consequently, Monroe was a brand of movie star that was unfamiliar to the American psyche: erotic yet wholesome, intimidating yet vulnerable, her appeal stretched to nearly every contemporary demographic. The image is that of a starlet in the midst of becoming the world’s foremost glamour icon: her lips suggestively parted, her eyes sensuously relaxed, and her hair styled to the utmost perfection, Monroe owns every inch of her emerging celebrity and powers of seduction. Warhol could not have chosen a more iconic image of Monroe as public figure.
The “Niagara” still shows Monroe at the peak of her youth, a symbol of innocence when juxtaposed with the downward personal spirals and career missteps that were to follow. In this regard, Warhol’s image is idealized, but not sanitized, as no amount of idealization could prevent the viewer from feeling the pathos of Monroe’s subsequent years. Therefore, in selecting this image, Warhol has actually enhanced the cathartic possibilities of his art, showing us the widest range of Marilyn’s tragedy through the naiveté of her twenty-six year-old smile.
The image Warhol chose to employ in his piece conforms perfectly to the technique that he chose to utilize in its production. The silkscreen process is in itself a feat of mechanization—an outstanding parallel to Monroe’s systematic replication in the days following her death. Warhol’s process began with the canvas or linen, on which he would apply several of the same prints using ink and a cloth or silk trimmed and designed to display his chosen pattern. As the years progressed, Warhol would increasingly paint over his dried ink, adding fairs of color or colored pencil. This would partially obscure some of the original silkscreen pattern to an artistic extent. Yet in the present lot, we see Warhol changing course and following a more unique route to his final product. Instead of adding his colors after the silkscreened pattern has been applied, here, Warhol has actually chosen a unique three part technical approach: he first lays down a screen, applies his layers of colored pigment, then resilkscreens the image on top of his colors. Through Warhol’s doing so, we observe a great deal more detail than we would have seen had he utilized his proceeding technique. Warhol would return again to this particular technique later in his career.
As we witness Warhol’s technical engagement with his work, we cannot help but think of the influence of the Abstract Expressionists. By establishing the canvas as subject as opposed to the figure within, the Expressionists allowed the surface to be the main subject of focus for the observer as opposed to the image presented. Warhol appropriates this idea yet also expounds upon it, ultimately making his painting as profound in its subject as in the layers of material upon its surface. He manages to maintain his distance (perpetuating the ideals of Pop Art) while at the same time offering a purely aesthetic examination of the surface.
But, as one might expect from an examination of Warhol’s ideas about painting, his reasons for using such a process were both many and obscure. While the most obvious features of Warhol’s exuberant paintings are the colors and the subjects themselves, Warhol as an auteur was drawn to the more subtle characteristics of the silkscreen for its use in painting. The fact is that Warhol’s idea of image repetition did not come about from his personal ideals or concepts as to how he could perpetuate the tenets of Pop Art. It was not an attempt to set into motion the wheels of pop commodifcation commentary (although this was an obvious and historic side effect). Warhol’s replication technique was rather a result of Warhol’s development as an aesthete, an artist developing a taste for sophistication in his images: “I think, at the time, I started repeating the same image because I liked the way the repetition changed the same image. Also, I felt at the time, as I do now, that people can look at and absorb more than one image at a time.” (Warhol, 1971, from an interview with Gerard Malanga, from I’ll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews, Ed. K. Goldsmith, New York, 2004, p. 193) It was the variation of the print that he treasured.
In Four Marilyns, 1962, we find all the signs of visual richness that are the hallmarks of Warhol masterwork. Warhol’s portrayal of Marilyn is without a doubt one of the most visually alive, bright, and wondrous works of art produced during the twentieth century. The initial impression of the viewer may not even be the gleaming subject herself, but rather the holy colors in which Warhol chooses to enshrine her. Glittering forth in a spectrum once only reserved for the portrayal of religious iconography, Warhol utilizes pure and saturated hues that stand alone in his body of work for their clashing juxtaposition and gorgeous energy. Four tones dominate every inch of his contained canvas. First, and perhaps most strikingly, a brilliant electric yellow confronts the viewer with a tone both joyous and violent, a primal blast of unabashed visual magnificence. The second most striking tone is Warhol’s lavender, appearing alongside the electric yellow in a fabulous contrast. With these two tones, Warhol draws upon the contributions of the two most innovative colorists of the early twentieth century, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. However, presently, Warhol’s exploration of color is in its formational stages, and we can observe his fascinating experimentation therein.
Accompanying both the yellow and lavender, we find two additional tones. Though perhaps not as loud as the former, they hold more significance in both their aesthetic functionality and symbolic resonance. Firstly, Warhol inserts a remarkable shade of light cyan, know as pthalo green, into all four sections, establishing a beautiful counterpoint to their warmer surroundings. Purely as an aesthetic device, it serves as an anchor to the other three tones, widening the color palette whilst not overwhelming the viewer with unnecessary visual heat. The final hue with which Warhol enriches his masterpiece is the most understated: it is a tone of cadmium orange, forming the background of the figure, and, in addition, taking a back seat to the explicitness of its rival colors. It shrouds each face in warmth and agreeable tonality, yet remains reserved in its visual impact.But the significance of these two more relaxed colors cannot be overstated, for it is in their use that Warhol achieves his most direct greatest connection to the old masters. His use of cyan conjures that of the sacred hue of blue reserved only for the dress of the Virgin Mary. Prior to the Middle Ages, blue was rarely used to convey the majesty of divinity in visual art. In their depictions of the Virgin, these early artists traditionally adopted deeper tones, namely red, brown, and black in order to convey a sense of mourning. Yet, with the revelation of the stained glass windows at Saint Denis Basilica in Paris in 1140 and its liberal use of cobalt based dye, a new standard was established for portraying the Madonna and her child. No longer were the colors of mourning confined to lackluster shades of earth, for they were now the color of the heavens. The next three hundred years brought a wealth of blue into religious iconography—from the illuminated manuscripts of Roger of Waltham, c. 1330, to Raphael’s Aldo Brandini Madonna, 1510.
In adding his flourishes of cyan to Four Marilyns, 1962, Warhol modernizes the traditional royal blue to a shade in keeping with his developing Pop sensibility. On the visual spectrum, cyan occupies a point directly between blue and green while emitting a brightness and fluorescence superior to both. Warhol’s use of the color adds a special dimension to the piece, hearkening back to an established western tradition yet fully catering to the attention span of the modern observer.
While the cyan designates Warhol’s tie-in with a medieval tradition, his use of cadmium orange unites him with the masters of an even older religious iconography. While Western Europe masters adopted blue in their iconography well into the second millennium, the mosaic artisans and painters of Byzantium had already established the use of gold as a chromatic signifier as early as the 6th century , during the reign of the emperor Justinian. What we discover with Warhol’s use of cadmium orange is a modernization technique similar to his use of cyan. The color glows around the figure, as an aura, while the golden hair creates saintly halo that frames Marilyn’s face. The two colors function as both a religious statement and a statement of contemporary fashion. Together, the cyan, cadmium orange, and the gold of Marilyn’s hair bring ancient traditions into contact with our updated field of chromatic possibility.
Warhol’s hues, laid down before the silkscreened image of Marilyn, only serve to enhance the fantastic detail of her every feature. The image itself is a study in human sexuality. In addition, it is fascinating to witness the dynamics of Warhol’s shapes, the almost biomorphic forms of his hues taking shape with the application of the silkscreen. Marilyn’s electric yellow hair is coiffed into a nearly plasticized wave above her head, her widow’s peak curving away into an enormous curl that falls gently above her right eyebrow. Warhol’s technique of placing the pattern down after his colors also allows us to observe a fine emphasis of shadow below Marilyn’s left cheek and below her chin, a trough that signals her intimidatingly gorgeous bone structure. Her relaxed eyes are nearly closed, allowing her mouth to take center stage as the key player in her act of seduction. Half in a smile, half in an erotic invitation, her lips remain pouted yet parted with a single mole that conjures the desired attractiveness of seventeenth century French aristocracy. Warhol’s tripartite process brings the blurry image of an abstract work into stunning relief, where radical abstraction builds into an intricate portrait. The resulting grin is a study in ecstasy, where brightness begets an zealous exultation of sexual attractiveness.
Warhol has chosen to highlight the face on each quadrant with just a touch of painterly makeup. Matching the relaxed mood that her eyes exude, cyan coats Marilyn’s upper eyelids, tempering Marilyn’s steamy gaze with a tranquility. Elsewhere, Warhol allows his subject’s teeth to glitter with a gleaming hue of natural white. In doing so, he grants longer were the colors of mourning confined to lackluster shades of earth, for they were now the color of the heavens. The next three hundred years brought a wealth of blue into religious iconography—from the illuminated manuscripts of Roger of Waltham, c. 1330, to Raphael’s Aldo Brandini Madonna, 1510. In adding his flourishes of cyan to Four Marilyns, 1962, Warhol modernizes the traditional royal blue to a shade in keeping with his developing Pop sensibility. On the visual spectrum, cyan occupies a point directly between blue and green while emitting a brightness and fluorescence superior to both. Warhol’s use of the color adds a special dimension to the piece, hearkening back to an established western tradition yet fully catering to the attention span of the modern observer. While the cyan designates Warhol’s tie-in with a medieval tradition, his use of cadmium orange unites him with the masters of an even older religious iconography. While Western Europe masters adopted blue in their iconography well into the second millennium, the mosaic artisans and painters the observer a brief chromatic respite as he gazes upon Marilyn’s open mouth. Yet Warhol is quick to place the exclamation point on his visual description of Monroe’s superstardom—deep blood red lips surround her teeth, classic in color and true to life . On three of the impressions, Warhol has actually manipulated Marilyn’s smile with varying the thickness of his handpainting, presenting us with alternative versions of the same original print; her expression varies accordingly.
From a technical standpoint, Warhol also gives us insight into his own fascination with the natural variation of the silkscreen process. Each quadrant and its image is completely unique: Marilyn’s incarnation on the upper-left hand portion of the picture is a happy medium between the oversaturation of the ink in the upper right-hand quadrant and the light touch of the bottom-left. Yet Warhol’s most vivid silkscreen is Marilyn’s face on the bottom right hand quadrant. Allowing each individual hue to shine with great intensity while conveying a crispness in the ink of the silkscreen, this image is the most striking of the four.
Warhol’s choice of publicity still compounded with his breathtaking chromatic vision was stunningly prescient in terms of gaining a reaction from his audience. When Warhol presented his first group of Marilyns in late 1962, during his first solo exhibition in New York at Stable Gallery, they struck a particularly sensitive and tragic note with observers. Warhol himself has attested that he witnessed many of the observers weeping openly in the face of such a pristine example of Monroe’s youth, such a stark contrast to the media’s mostly grim coverage of her recent death. In fact, the reaction of the public was not unlike pious zealots confronted with the death of a martyr. The influence of Warhol’s Byzantine Catholic upbringing had come through in a stunning artistic catharsis: he had helped Marilyn Monroe to transcend her celebrity, even after her death. She was now a twentieth century martyr, a martyr to the new religion of celebrity and fame.
Warhol’s replication technique proves to be the perfect representation of how our conception of religion has changed through its portrayal in media. In addition, perhaps the most historically consequential part of Four Marilyns, 1962, is the permanent knot that it ties between the veneration implicit in religion and celebrity culture: “She is a heroine whose face is represented like that of Christ or the Virgin in eleventh-century mosaics: a hieratic, isolated, popular figure, magnificently ritual. On the surface, Warhol merges everyday life and holy life, except that the latter presents a movie figure as its—a supericon whose image is reproduced ad infinitum, so as to induce imitation and identification to satisfy the media-related beliefs of the world.”(G. Celant, “SuperWarhol”, SuperWarhol, Ed. Germano Celant, Milan, 2003, p. 4)
But while the exposed struggles of many other celebrities have made them sympathetic figures in the American imagination, none has approached the canonization of Norma Jean Baker, nor has the posthumous veneration of any other public figure enshrined him or her in the pantheon of the American mythos to such an enormous extent. Monroe’s suffering was not unique, but the contrast between her public persona and her private life was. “The object of veneration here is not a Blessed Virgin but a slightly lewd seductress, the image of whose face is still suffused with erotic magic. This sensuous radiance transforms the unhappy Marilyn of real life—the victim of abuse, failed marriages, affairs, and finally suicide. In Warhol’s paintings of her, the very human Marilyn becomes a symbolic image of the need for love and to be loved.”(K. McShine, Introduction, Andy Warhol: A Retrospective, Ed. K McShine, New York, 1989, pp. 17-18)
Warhol’s masterpiece proves that with every innovation in the realm of art, he was following a grand lineage. In a way, the parallel between Warhol and the religious iconographers of Byzantium is the completion of a 1500-year old tradition, in which Warhol achieves a remarkable accomplishment: uncovering religious meaning in our newly secular culture. In addition, Warhol triumphs from a historical and sociological perspective: it would be difficult to overstate the extent to which he charts centuries of celebrity culture and its phases, from religious figures to entertainers to everything in between.
But Warhol was not only completing an art-historical loop begun millennia before he born, he was also laying the groundwork for his own ability as mythmaker in the American consciousness through his means of production. It is mesmerizing to witness Warhol’s own religious ritual: transubstantiating Marilyn, he materializes her symbolic power and mystery while leveraging her fame into his own. A single icon with multiple incarnations, Warhol creates an image of his goddess akin to the multiple identities in the Holy trinity. The resulting gestalt is Warhol’s legacy. It is his greatest gift to future generations as an American and, indeed, historic artist. In each painting, and in Four Marilyns, in particular, Warhol manages to create a new myth to be consumed by culture-at-large. Writing of the Warhol’s show at Stable Gallery in 1962, critic Michael Fried nailed down Warhol’s gift with overwhelming eloquence: “An art like Warhol’s is necessarily parasitic upon the myths of its time, and indirectly therefore upon the machinery of fame and publicity that market these myths; and it is not at all unlikely that these myths that move us will be unintelligible (or at least starkly dated) to generations that follow…These, I think, are the most successful pieces in the show… because Marilyn is one of the overriding myths of our time.” (“New York Letter”, Art International, December 20, 1962, p. 57)
But at the core of Four Marilyns, 1962— beneath the myth-making, beneath the religious iconography and the Pop Art celebrity commentary—there lies the simple relationship between an artist and his muse. Of course, Warhol was notoriously tight-lipped when it came to speaking of his reasons for painting particular subjects. And while his words might appear cynical when taken at face value, his projected ambivalence was only in place to conceal his spirit of unconditional affection for the world. In other words, we can surmise that Warhol’s stated ambivalence concerning his subjects, even Marilyn Monroe, was the result of a spirit of love as opposed to apathy. His refusal to admit this love, idolatry, and admiration was only a response to the repeated hum of the media that desired to categorize in concrete terms the significance of each of his pictures. Like Marilyn Monroe, Warhol’s art was bigger than that. And, adopting Marilyn as his public muse as well, through his imitation of her breathy voice, her golden hair and her everpresent smile, Warhol furthered the essence of his ultimate subject for an additional quarter-century. In the end, Warhol has come to be much the same as his muse in Four Marilyns, 1962: a star, a myth, and a legend.