An iconic Andy Warhol silkscreen of the movie star Marilyn Monroe sold for $195mn at Christie’s on Monday, a record price for a work by an American artist and the highest price ever paid for a piece of 20th century art.
The sale of the portrait, titled “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn”, marked the start of two weeks of sales in New York that are forecast to bring in more than $2bn as dozens of pieces of art go under the hammer.
The Warhol had been estimated to sell for roughly $200mn, Christie’s said, and surpassed the previous record set for a 20th century artwork sold at auction, which was held by a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting of a skull, which sold for $110.5mn at Sotheby’s in 2017.
“Shot Sage Blue Marilyn”, made in 1964, was considered a trophy by collectors given its electrifying colours. Monroe’s face, taken from a publicity still from the 1953 movie Niagara, is recast in vivid pink, with candy apple red lips and bright yellow hair and set against a sage-blue backdrop.
Its name came about after performance artist Dorothy Podber asked to shoot a stack of silkscreen portraits of Monroe in Warhol’s studio. Warhol had assumed she meant to photograph the pictures, and agreed. Instead, Podber took a pistol from her purse and shot at the portraits.
Dealer Larry Gagosian was the winning bidder for the portrait, although it was unclear on whose behalf he was bidding. The work was sold from the collection of the Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation in Zurich. Doris Ammann died last year and her brother passed away in 1993.
Gagosian had sold the silkscreen image to Ammann in 1986.
The Ammanns were notable collectors of contemporary art. Proceeds from the sale will benefit the newly established foundation, which provides healthcare and educational programming for children, according to Christie’s.
The auction included other works by Warhol as well as by Basquiat, Cy Twombly, Francesco Clemente and Robert Ryman. A 2003 painting by New York-based artist Ann Craven sold for $680,000, far higher than the estimate of $20,000-$30,000.
Christie’s chief executive Guillaume Cerutti said he was “thrilled” by the sale. But it was evident early on that a bidding war for a piece valued near the top of the art market would not materialise as one did four years ago when, after 19 minutes of bidding, Christie’s sold Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” for $450mn.
The Warhol volleyed slowly between a handful of bidders, with the hammer coming down in less than four minutes at $170mn. Fees paid to the auction house lifted the work’s final price tag to $195mn.
The painting did not carry a guarantee, as is usual with eight- and nine-figure sum sales, nor a price at which a third party would agree to buy the work if bidding did not meet a minimum value.
“We needed to put a price out there,” said Marc Porter, chair of Christie’s in the Americas. “That was the price, what we were driving toward. It could have been anything, I believe it’s worth anything that somebody pays for it. It’s an amazing price.”