US$200 million Marilyn Monroe portrait by Andy Warhol set to shatter records

Andy Warhol's painting, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn – depicting Hollywood movie star Marilyn Monroe – will lead Christie's New York Sales in May. It is expected to fetch US$200 million dollars.

If sold, this silkscreen work will set a new auction record for the American Pop Art Master and become the second most expensive painting in auction history – after Italian Renaissance Master, Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi (Saviour of the World).

This work is consigned to the international auction house by the Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation Zurich, where the proceeds will be donated for charitable purposes.

Andy Warhol │ Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, Acrylic and silkscreen on linen

Created in 1964
101.6 x 101.6 cm
Estimate upon request (expected to fetch US$200 million)
Auction House: Christie’s New York
Sale Date: May 2022

Here is a recap of the three most expensive paintings in auction history:

  1. Leonardo da Vinci|Salvator Mundi (Saviour of the World)|Sold: US$450,312,500|Christie’s New York, November 2017
  2. Pablo Picasso|Les Femmes d'Alger (Version O) [Women of Algiers (Version O)]|Sold: US$179,365,000|Christie’s New York, May 2015
  3. Amedeo Modigliani|Nu Couche (Reclining Nude)|Sold: US$170,405,000|Christie’s New York, November 2015

Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi (circa 1499-1510) sold for US$450 million in 2017, making it the most expensive painting in auction history. In second place is Picasso's 1955 painting Women of Algiers (Version O), which sold for US$179 million dollars in 2015.

The third place is Modigliani's Reclining Nude (1917-1918), which garnered US$170 million dollars in 2015. In the end, the buyer was Chinese billionaire and prominent art collector, Liu Yiqian. All three of the above-mentioned record-breaking sales were hammered at Christie's New York.

If Shot Sage Blue Marilyn is sold for US$200 million dollars, it will surpass Picasso's Women of Algiers (Version O) and become the newly crowned second most expensive painting.

Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi

Picasso’s Women of Algiers (Version O)

Modigliani's Reclining Nude 

So, why is Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe painting so valuable?

First of all, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn is one of the most iconic paintings of the 20th century.

In August 1962, Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe died. That year, Andy Warhol created a series of works based on Monroe’s promotional poster for the 1953 movie, Niagara. Two years later, in 1964, he depicted the protagonist’s face with bright colours, and used a more delicate silkscreen printing technique to create a number of works starring Monroe.

This series of five works – including red, orange, sage blue, light blue and turquoise versions – became known as the Shot Marilyns.

Warhol's silkscreen work was inspired by Monroe's promotional poster for the 1953 film, Niagara

Andy Warhol

Warhol's The Factory studio in New York

In 1964, the Shot Marilyns series got its name after American performance artist, Dorothy Podber, visited Warhol’s New York studio. She saw the artworks and asked the American artist if she could shoot them. Believing she meant taking pictures, he agreed. Unexpectedly, the woman took out a revolver and shot through the forehead of Monroe's likenesses with a single shot.

Amongst the five paintings, four were hit by the bullet – the turquoise version was left undamaged in another location. Podber was later barred from entering the studio again.

Shooting Marilyns were highly sought after by top collectors – setting two auction records for the American artist in the past few decades. In 1989, the red version was sold for a then-record US$4.01 million dollars at Christie's New York. In 1998, the orange version fetched US$17.3 million dollars at Sotheby's New York, which set another new auction record.

Dorothy Podber

The orange version of Shooting Marilyn fetched US$17.3 million in 1998 

Warhol's current auction record was set in 2013 – his 1963 silkscreen work, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), garnered US$105 million dollars at Sotheby's New York.

This time, this sage blue painting from the Shooting Marilyns series is expected to sell for an astronomical US$200 million dollars – nearly double the above auction record. In 2017, American hedge fund billionaire, Kenneth Griffin, reportedly bought the orange version from the estate of late American media tycoon, S. I. Newhouse, for US$200 million dollars. Using this as a benchmark, the price becomes more understandable.

This sage blue work also belonged to the late collection of S.I. Newhouse and was acquired by the current owner. It was exhibited in major art institutions around the world for decades – including Guggenheim Museum in New York; Centre Pompidou in Paris, Tate Modern in London, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

This present painting is released by the Foundation founded by siblings – Thomas and Doris Ammann. Proceeds will be donated to their namesake Foundation, which is devoted to healthcare and educational programmes for underprivileged children around the world.

A distinguished art dealer, Doris founded the gallery – Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG in 1977 with her younger brother. The pair promoted and sold Impressionist, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary masterpieces to prominent private collections and museums – such as Museum of Modern Art, New York. The two passed away in 1993 and 2021.

Warhol's Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)

Thomas and Doris Ammann