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  • Provenance

    Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, Paris
    Collection of Micheline & Claude Renard
    Christie’s, London, Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 8 February 2006, lot 46
    Private Collection, New York
    Phillips, New York, Evening Sale, 6 March 2014, lot 12
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Literature

    K. McShine (ed.), Andy Warhol: A Retrospective, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1989, . 220 (illustrated)
    C. Heinrich, T Sokolowski, et al., Andy Warhol - Photography, New York: Stemmle Publishers, 1999, p. 55 (illustrated)
    G. Celant (ed.), Super Warhol, Milan: Skira, 2003, p. 266 (illustrated)
    F. Feldman and J. Schellmann, Andy Warhol Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1967, 4th ed., New York: Distributed Art Publishers Inc. and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Inc., 2003, cat. no. 11.22-31, pp. 68-69 (illustrated)
    A. Warhol, G. Mercurio, D. Morera, The Andy Warhol Show, London: Thames & Hudson, 2005, pp. 88-89 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Eternal and haunting, Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe is an idol of terrifying power. It is an image with which our culture is saturated to the extent that to this day its original impact reverberates, is recapitulated, in continuing affirmation of Warhol’s searing inquest into fame and consumerism.

    Warhol first created a silkscreen of Monroe in 1962, just weeks after her death at the age of thirty-six. He used a publicity still from her 1953 movie Niagara. The archetypal picture of Monroe in ascension to stardom, this photograph presents a relaxed and sensuous visage: suggestively parted lips, perfect hair, an inviting and smoky gaze. It is a face guilelessly at odds with the brutal and unrelenting serialisation to which Warhol would subject it.

    One of the earliest Marilyn works was Marilyn Diptych (1962), in which two panels of twenty-five Marilyns are placed side by side; the left group are in vivid colour, while the adjacent panel is monochrome, afflicted by blurring and distortion, outlines and shadows fading as the faces read from left to right. In this gradual attenuation is captured the loss of Marilyn herself, even as a chromatically fortified ‘image’ of the real person remains luridly alive. This is the imagistic power of mass media in action. The work’s designation as Diptych highlights another important aspect of idolatry. A diptych is typically a double screen of religious figures at the altarpiece of a church: as a devout Byzantine Catholic Warhol was brought up to be keenly aware of the rich history of such imagery, the practices of veneration and adoration informing much of his oeuvre. Enshrined in devotional format, Marilyn becomes the central object of image-worship.

    Both in medium and expression, Warhol seamlessly merges this reliquary fetishisation with his chronicling of mediated modernity. As Heiner Bastian writes, even at this early stage in Warhol’s output ‘the aura of utterly affirmative idolisation already stands as a stereotype of a “consumer-goods style” expression of an American way of life and the mass-media culture of a nation, which, in the early 1960s, were creating dreams and hegemonies (according to wholly technical and material premises), in which goods and messages were beholden to mechanisms of consumerism that applied to both alike. In these works the hyper-icons of Pop turn into icons of demonic emptiness; Warhol’s notion of “beauty” cannot be imagined without tragedy.’ (Heiner Bastian, ‘Rituals of Unfulfillable Individuality – The Whereabouts of Emotions,’ in Heiner Bastian, Andy Warhol: Retrospective, London: Tate, 2001).

    Warhol’s well-documented factory-line production methods are at perhaps their most poignant in his treatment of Marilyn. The slippages and imperfections of silkscreen do much to convey the human fragility of the real woman, distorted and wearing away through merciless iteration. As a pin-up and sex symbol, she was expected to maintain a paradoxically spotless public image; Warhol exposes the tragic contradictions of such celebrity in his Marilyn’s sphinx-like mask. While the real Marilyn struggled with substance addiction, miscarriages and spousal abuse, here she is a fallen woman made immaculate, radiant in Technicolor series.

    Much as his electric chairs or car crashes, there is something macabre in the Marilyns. Brought into being so soon after her untimely death, they capture and preserve her in idealised state, and in a sense she is not allowed to pass away, even as she fades into history. Warhol’s choice of the Niagara publicity shot hit a tragic note when his first Marilyns went on display in Castelli Gallery in 1962; many visitors wept at the face before them, which bears the innocence of her early career before fame and illness took their fatal toll.

    While acknowledging the darkness of this mythos, Warhol himself commodifies Marilyn. She is canonised and sold. As emblem of the literally cult-like elements of Pop, she is both fantastically marketable and endlessly fatalistic. The present portfolio renders her in different colours upon each repetition, selling and reselling, modulating in psychedelic variety; this in itself is a mimetic gesture. Just as every American projected their own hopes, desires, and dreams upon the young starlet, so did Warhol’s Factory physically impress upon her with their screens various hues and casts, each time recreating her anew.

    In this astonishing work, Warhol fashions himself as demiurge of a culture, a world that is as much of his own creating as it is a glaring reflection of the universe around him. No longer mere documentary likeness, the portrait is invested with the vertiginous and necromantic intensity of the gaze of millions. The aesthetic and the conceptual are subsumed in the flat planes of silkscreen; Marilyn becomes a phenomenal surface of absolute art and absolute merchandise.

  • Artist Biography

    Andy Warhol

    American • 1928 - 1987

    Known as the “King of Pop,” Andy Warhol was the leading face of the Pop Art movement in the United States 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 like Campbell's soup tins, and celebrities like 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 a mentor to such artists as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

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Marilyn Monroe

portfolio of screenprints on paper, in 10 parts
each 91.4 x 91.4 cm (36 x 36 in.)
Initialled and stamp numbered on the reverse; further numbered on the reverse A124.086, A130.086-138.086. Published by Factory Additions, New York. This work is comprised of 7 prints numbered 62 and 3 prints numbered 137 from an edition of 250 plus 26 artist proofs. Includes original corrugated portfolio box.

£1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for £1,202,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
[email protected]
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London 29 June 2015 7pm