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Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

Marilyn (Reversal)

Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Marilyn (Reversal)
stamped 'Andy Warhol' (on the overlap)
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
20 1/8 x 15 7/8in. (51 x 40.5cm.)
Executed in 1979-1986
The Waddington Galleries, London.
Private Collection, Tokyo.
Anon. sale, Christie's New York, 10 May 2000, lot 720.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
London, Waddington Galleries, Andy Warhol Reversal Series, 1987, no. 9 (illustrated in colour, p. 21).

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Katharine Arnold
Katharine Arnold

Lot Essay

‘Warhol’s Reversals recapitulate his portraits of famous faces – from Marilyn and the Mona Lisa to Mao and the wallpaper cow- but with the tonal values reversed. As if the spectator was looking at photographic negatives, highlighted faces have gone dark while former shadows now rush forward. Sometimes this results in extravagantly melodramatic images. The reversed Marilyns, especially, have a lurid otherworldly glow, as if illuminated by internal footlights’ —D. BOURDON

‘Even when the subject is different, people always paint the same painting’ —A. WARHOL

Andy Warhol’s Marilyn (Reversal) is a tribute to one of the artist’s best loved muses. Considered to be the most successful subject from the Reversal Series, the radiant beauty of Marilyn Monroe provides this work with its iconic subject and lasting resonance, extoled here in an enduring, glowing jewel-like blue and green; a contrast that introduces a sense of electricity to the picture. Executed at the peak of Andy Warhol’s fame, Marilyn (Reversal), belongs to the artist’s retrospective Reversal Series created between 1979 and 1986. Returning full circle to the film still of the starlet in the 1953 film Niagara, in the twenty years since Warhol first used the image in Gold Marilyn Monroe, the profile had become a powerful icon of the Pop movement and an instantly recognizable representation of Warhol’s art. As David Bourdon explains, ‘Warhol’s Reversals recapitulate his portraits of famous faces... but with the tonal values reversed. As if the spectator were looking at photographic negatives, highlighted faces have gone dark while former shadows now rush forward in electric hues. Sometimes this results in extravagantly melodramatic images. The reversed Marilyns, especially, have a lurid, otherworldly glow, as if illuminated by internal footlights’ (D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 378).

Marilyn (Reversal) performs as homage to the actress, to Hollywood and to the Silver Screen deliberately intertwined with the mystique of Warhol’s own legend. As a golden legend of Hollywood, Marilyn held particular fascination for Warhol. Central to Warhol’s pantheon of Pop icons from the 1960s, which included Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy and Elvis, Marilyn was Warhol’s cult queen of celebrity. Ever since 1962, when Warhol first captured the lustrous splendour of Marilyn’s face in Gold Marilyn Monroe, collection of Museum of Modern Art, the artist has been captivated by her enduring beauty. The actress was the perfect subject for Warhol who regarded her as a kindred spirit: a fellow artist who was under-appreciated by her peers and whose creative talents were often misunderstood and rarely appreciated for their nuances. Immediately after her tragic death on August 5th 1962, Warhol became so preoccupied by the idea of Marilyn as a pre-fabricated media product that he translated her familiar image into an image that would not only define his career, but also the actress’s legacy. By revisiting Marilyn, Warhol portrays a nostalgic representation of a beloved icon- at once enchanting yet detached she acts as a remote artifice of bygone Hollywood.

Between 1979 and 1986, Warhol innovatively embarked on a retrospective phase of his career. Created on the suggestion of his dealer Bruno Bischofberger, the series of Reversal paintings were envisaged as series which revisited the creative potential of his most successful images. Reinventing his most iconic works, Warhol refreshes them for a new generation, providing a post-modern reinterpretation of his own art. In doing so, he effectively re-contextualizes an appropriation of an appropriation. Part pastiche of his earlier work and part reinvention, Warhol’s Reversal Series addresses the artist’s own fame through the plundering his own visual lexicon, taking the icons which he had himself helped to create and reviving them. By flipping and inversing the imagery, Warhol’s representation of Marilyn has surpassed the fame of the actress herself, and has instead become emblematic of Warhol and the themes pervasive throughout his body of work.

In this way, Warhol simultaneously succeeded in subverting and continuing his own legacy, shifting himself into a new, post-modern realm. ‘Ransacking his own past to produce the Reversal and Retrospectives, Warhol revealed himself to be one of the shrewdest of the new wave of post-modernists. While modernism has been an ideal that survived throughout most of the 1960s, continuing its self-conscious search for new forms of expression, post-modernism, which gained currency in the ‘pluralist’ 1970s, reflected an ironic attitude toward all aesthetic camps and displayed an indifference to traditional hierarchies of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art’ (D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York 1989, p. 379). In doing so, Marilyn (Reversal) stands as a major accomplishment that reinforces Warhol’s legacy as a master of twentieth century art.

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