Christie’s to Offer a Marilyn Monroe by Warhol for an Estimated $200 Million

Upping the ante for the spring auctions and attesting to the enduring strength of blue-chip trophies, Christie’s announced that it would sell a 1964 Andy Warhol silkscreen of Marilyn Monroe in May for an estimated $200 million, which would make it the most expensive 20th-century artwork ever to sell at auction.

The announcement about the work, “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn,” represents a significant burst of excitement for a high-end art market that has come through the coronavirus pandemic largely unscathed.

“The most significant 20th-century painting to come to auction in a generation, Andy Warhol’s ‘Marilyn’ is the absolute pinnacle of American Pop and the promise of the American dream, encapsulating optimism, fragility, celebrity and iconography all at once,” Alex Rotter, Christie’s chairman for 20th and 21st century art, said in a statement. Rotter said it was “one of the greatest paintings of all time,” and likened it to the Mona Lisa, Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” and Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.”

The painting comes to Christie’s from the Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation Zurich, which supports health care and educational programs for children. All proceeds of the sale would go toward the foundation, making the sale potentially the highest-grossing philanthropic auction since the collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller at Christie’s in 2018.

The siblings Thomas and Doris Ammann in 1977 founded Thomas Ammann Fine Art, a Zurich gallery that specialized in Impressionist, Modern, Postwar and contemporary artists. After Thomas’s death in 1993, Doris continued to lead the gallery. She died last year.

The auction record for a Warhol is $104.5 million for his “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster),” in 2013.

The silkscreen — striking for its bright blue eyeshadow, yellow hair and red lips — is based on a promotional photo from the actress’s film “Niagara,” part of a Warhol series of “Shot Marilyn” portraits. (The series is so titled because, in 1964, a woman walked into Warhol’s Factory studio and with a pistol shot a hole through the stack of four Marilyn paintings.)

“The spectacular portrait isolates the person and the star,” Georg Frei, the foundation’s chairman, said in a statement. “Marilyn the woman is gone; the terrible circumstances of her life and death are forgotten. All that remains is the enigmatic smile that links her to another mysterious smile of a distinguished lady, the Mona Lisa.”

The work has been exhibited at institutions including the Guggenheim in New York, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Tate Modern in London.

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