Shot Sage Blue Marilyn by Andy Warhol

Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, a portrait of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol (USA), has sold for $195 million (£158 million; €184 million), becoming the most expensive painting from the 20th century sold at auction.

The record-breaking sale kicked off Christie’s Spring Marquee Week on 9 May 2022. The auction house described the artwork as "one of the rarest and most transcendent images in existence".

Created in 1964, two years after Monroe’s death, it is one of the Shot Marilyns; a series of four square (40 x 40 in) portraits which earned their names after being shot through the forehead with a single bullet.

The buyer is reported to be Larry Gagosian (USA), a prominent art dealer and owner of a global chain of galleries.

The previous record was held by Les femmes d'Alger (Version O), a 1955 Pablo Picasso painting which sold for $179.3 million (£115 million; €158 million) in 2015.

Shot Sage Blue Marilyn is also now the most expensive screenprint by Warhol, breaking the record set by Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) (1963), which sold for $105.4 million (£65.5 million; €77 million) in 2013.

Warhol was a pioneer of the Pop Art movement and his colourful silkscreen print reproductions of popular imagery are instantly recognizable.

Elvis Presley, Mao Zedong and Campbell’s soup cans are amongst Warhol’s most famous subject matters, but his reproductions of Marilyn Monroe – based on a still from the 1953 movie Niagara - are arguably his most iconic.

The Shot Marilyns differ from the “mass production he was best known for," according to Christie’s, as they are the result of a "more refined and time-intensive" new printing process Warhol developed in 1964.

He created just five portraits using this technique before abandoning it.

Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964)

Four of these five portraits became the Shot Marilyns after being shot by Dorothy Podber, who was visiting Warhol's studio as a friend of a mutual friend.

Dorothy allegedly asked Warhol if she could shoot the recently-completed paintings, which were stacked against one another. Warhol agreed, under the impression that Dorothy was going to snap some photographs.

Instead, she pulled out a small revolver from her purse and shot a bullet through the stack of four paintings, creating a hole in between Marilyn’s eyebrows. The fifth portrait escaped this fate as it was not in the stack at the time.

Despite Warhol’s best efforts to paint over the damage, the bullet hole in each canvas is still faintly visible, undoubtedly contributing to Shot Sage Blue Marilyn’s record-breaking price tag.

“This sale demonstrates the pervasive power of Andy Warhol as well as the lasting legacy that he continues leave behind in the art world, popular culture, and society.” - Alex Rotter, Christie’s Chairman of 20th and 21st Century Art

Warhol’s Marilyn was the final lot in Christie’s sale of the collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann, which totalled $317.8 million.

The second-highest price paid on the evening was $21 million (£17 million; €19.9 million) for Cy Twombly’s Untitled, followed by $20.1 million (£16.3 million; €15.4 million) for Robert Ryman’s Untitled and $16.9 million (£13.7 million; €16 million) for Cy Twombly’s Venere Sopra Gaeta.

All proceeds from the entire sale will be donated by the Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation to benefit charities which provide urgent medical and educational services to children.

More record-breaking Marilyn Monroe memorabilia

  • Most expensive dress sold at auction: Modelled by Kim Kardashian at Met Gala 2022, Marilyn Monroe's 'Happy birthday, Mr President' dress was purchased by Ripley's Believe It or Not! for $4.8 million (£3.9 million; €4.5 million) on 17 November 2016.
  • Most expensive breast enhancers sold at auction: A pair of flesh coloured foam and cotton bra pads once belonging to Marilyn Monroe sold at auction for $5,000 (£3,149) in New Hampshire, USA on 15 April 2000.
  • Most expensive baseball autographed sold at auction: $191,200 (£103,766) was paid for a baseball signed in 1961 by legendary baseball player Joe DiMaggio and film star Marilyn Monroe (both USA), at an auction in Texas, USA on 5 May 2006.

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Header image credit: Christie's