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    Marilyn Monroe, C.1953, black and white photo. Image: Bridgeman Images
    Left: Marilyn Monroe, c. 1953, black and white photo. Image: Bridgeman Images. Right: Marilyn Monroe in a publicity still from the 1953 movie, Niagara. Image: Getty Images.

     

    'Some people spend their entire lives thinking about one particular famous person. They devote almost their entire consciousness to thinking about this person they've never even met, or maybe met once. It feels so strange to think that someone is spending their whole time thinking about you.' —Andy Warhol

    Throughout his career, Andy Warhol returned almost religiously to the image of Marilyn Monroe. An unforgettable protagonist of 20th century popular culture, Marylin embodied the notions of celebrity and beauty that Warhol so admired, but also the nebulous, tragic qualities that fascinated him and drove a number of his silkscreen series. In the artist's Reversal series, initiated almost twenty years after Marylin's death, Warhol revisited his iconic portrayal of the actress which he had unveiled to the world in 1962, and drenched it in an additional layer of gravitas — literally cloaking it with sheens of obscurity. 'These were the images that made him famous — the icons, symbols and brands through which he had made his own name', Roberto Marrone wrote of Warhol's 1960s pictures. 'In repeating these same images in a new "reversed" and negative form in 1979, Warhol now bestowed upon them a new and altogether darker and more sombre mood reflective of the respective distance in time between their original use and the later moment of their re-creation'.1 Printed in negative, Warhol offers a ghostly, ethereal portrait of Marylin, defined more by her absence than her presence. Emerging on the heels of Warhol's immense retrospective at Tate, London, last year — the first major Warhol retrospective to take place at the British institution for almost twenty years — One Grey / Black Marilyn (Reversal Series) II-50-160 is a painting of extraordinary quality, of which a number of variants were exhibited on the occasion, demonstrating the unparalleled importance of Marylin as a muse in Warhol's oeuvre.

     

    Artist and Muse as One

     

     

    Preparing a transparent Marilyn for an exhibtion, 1967, New York. Photo:  William John Kennedy. Image: © 2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London.
    Preparing a transparent Marilyn for an exhibition, 1967, New York. Photo:  William John Kennedy. Image: © 2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London.

    A singular force behind his next thirty years of artistic production, Warhol's muse came in the form of a femme fatale — both beautiful and tragic. Though Monroe and Warhol never exchanged a single word or glance, their souls seemed fated to connect. Sharing a number of character traits — namely their inherently paradoxical identities, steeped in dichotomies of public life versus shyness, celebrity versus tragedy — it only appeared natural that Warhol would choose Marylin — a mirror of sorts — as his muse. 'The irony of Andy Warhol's "Marilyn" is that it is an icon of an icon created by an icon', writes Isabella Geist.2 It is perhaps this similarity, and the immortalisation of this similarity in Marylin's portrait, that unites them most strikingly.

     

    Left: Verso of the present work, displaying the composition's positive image on the reverse. Right: Recto of the present work.
    Details of the present work from two different perspectives.

    Celebrity and Death

     

    With her sensuous look and her enchanting smile, Monroe represented the epitome of American glamour in the 1950s and early 1960s. In 1962, her death represented a loss of American innocence, and its impact was felt around the world. Struck by its tragic force — which was amplified by the near-ubiquitous proliferation of her image in international media — Warhol took a publicity still from Monroe's 1953 movie, Niagara, and created his first portrait of the actress. Shot almost a decade before the movie star's demise on August 5, 1962, the image Warhol selected portrays Monroe during her rise to fame, just as her inimitable beauty and mystery began to charm the world. It showcases her perfect facial structure as well as her unabashed embrace of her own seductive powers, in a subtle blend of tantalising attractiveness and unknowably prescient nostalgia. The artist's choice of this particular publicity produced an important emotional wave when his first Marilyns went on display in Castelli Gallery in 1962. Many spectators wept at the face before them, which bore the innocence of the 27-year old's early career, far before fame and illness took their fatal toll.

    'When Marilyn Monroe happened to die that month, I got the idea to make screens of her beautiful face the first Marilyns.' —Andy Warhol

    Andy Warhol, Marylin Diptych, 1962, silkscreen ink and acrylic paint on canvas, Tate Britain, London. Image: © Tate. © 2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London.
    Andy Warhol, Marylin Diptych, 1962, silkscreen ink and acrylic paint on canvas, Tate Britain, London. Image: © Tate. © 2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London.

     

    Warhol's Staple Technique

     

    When Warhol decided to create a series in Monroe's honour, he moved away from his stylised drawings of the 1950s and worked instead on finessing the newly found silkscreen techniques he had previously used for his Coke Bottle and Dollar Bills series. His first Marilyn Monroe series from 1962 indeed represented a dynamic shift in his style — they epitomised the visually striking multiples of celebrities that characterised the artist's practice in the early 1960s. Moreover, while his Factory produced many prints of the same image, no two works were ever alike — and it was this very notion that gave Warhol's silkscreening a wonderfully fatalistic edge.
    'As if the spectator were looking at photographic negatives, highlighted faces have gone dark while former shadows now rush forward in electric hues. The reversed Marilyns, especially, have a lurid otherworldly glow, as if illuminated by internal footlights.' —David BourdonThis effect became exacerbated when he revisited these iconic portrayals and imparted them with the appearance of photographic reversals. As the negative is usually the 'original' from which a photograph is printed, there was a certain paradox in the idea of making 'copies' of earlier paintings in this negative form. In addition to representing an evolution of Warhol's famed silkscreen technique, the series reflected the artist's increasing fascination with shadow, as the darkest areas in the original images were transformed into the brightest highlights. Other works combined a negative image with diamond dust, which Warhol sprinkled over the canvas as the silkscreen dried. In some, the image was nearly obliterated to the point of resembling an abstract painting. 'His [Warhol's] Reversals recapitulate his portraits of famous faces but with the tonal values reversed. As if the spectator were looking at photographic negatives, highlighted faces have gone dark while former shadows now rush forward in electric hues. The reversed Marilyns, especially, have a lurid otherworldly glow, as if illuminated by internal footlights'.3

     

    Andy Warhol, Fourteen Small Electric Chairs (Reversal Series), 1980, silkscreen inks and synthetic polymer on canvas, Private Collection. Image: Bridgeman Images
    Andy Warhol, Fourteen Small Electric Chairs (Reversal Series), 1980, silkscreen inks and synthetic polymer on canvas, Private Collection. Image: Bridgeman Images.

    1 Roberto Marrone, quoted in Andy Warhol: Big Retrospective Painting, exh. cat., Galerie Bruno 
    Bischofberger, Zurich, 2009, p. 32. 
    2 Isabella Geist, 'Warhol's "Marylin"', Forbes, 23 April 2002, online. 
    3 David Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 378. 

    • Provenance

      Waddington Galleries, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1990

    • Exhibited

      London, White Cube, Dark Matter, 7 July - 9 September 2006, pp. 12, 47 (illustrated, p. 13)

    • Artist Biography

      Andy Warhol

      American • 1928 - 1987

      Andy Warhol was the leading exponent of the Pop Art movement in the U.S. in the 1960s. Following an early career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol achieved fame with his revolutionary series of silkscreened prints and paintings of familiar objects, such as Campbell's soup tins, and celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe. Obsessed with popular culture, celebrity and advertising, Warhol created his slick, seemingly mass-produced images of everyday subject matter from his famed Factory studio in New York City. His use of mechanical methods of reproduction, notably the commercial technique of silk screening, wholly revolutionized art-making.

      Working as an artist, but also director and producer, Warhol produced a number of avant-garde films in addition to managing the experimental rock band The Velvet Underground and founding Interview magazine. A central figure in the New York art scene until his untimely death in 1987, Warhol was notably also a mentor to such artists as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

       

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Property from an Important Private Collection

Ο ◆17

One Grey / Black Marilyn (Reversal Series) II-50-160

signed 'Andy Warhol' on the reverse
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 15 7/8 in.)
Executed circa 1979-1986.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£700,000 - 900,000 

Sold for £733,650

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 April 2021