Among the Pantheon of his goddesses of Pop, Marilyn Monroe was Andy Warhol's High Priestess. Completed just a month after her suicide in 1962, Marilyn is part of one of his most iconic series; he produces a fitting tribute to one of the most beautiful women in the world. This exemplary single screen marks the dawn of a new age for Warhol. He has perfected his signature silkscreen technique and has begun to explore the rich visual possibilities of an exciting palette of vivid colors. The result is a triumphant culmination which emerges out of a progression of innovative canvases, some containing as many as one hundred images of the actress on a single canvases.
Marilyn Monroe was the perfect subject for Warhol, who regarded her as 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 some of his most iconic work.
The original image of Marilyn that Warhol chose for this particular screen was 8 x 10 inch publicity photograph thought to have been taken by Gene Korman for the promotion of Monroe's 1953 film, Niagara. Warhol then proceeded to crop the image to where the neck meets the shoulders, just below the line of the shadow cast by the jaw-line and the chin. Using these proportions he had a series of canvas made for his Marilyn images - a larger screen and several more intimate canvases, including the one used for the present lot.
Marilyn was also one of the first canvases in which Warhol perfected his screen-printing technique, as he recalled later
"In August '62 I started doing silkscreens. The rubber-stamp method I'd been using to repeat images suddenly seemed too homemade; I wanted something stronger that gave more of an assembly-line effect. With silkscreening, you pick a photograph, blow it up, transfer it in glue onto silk, and then roll ink across it so the ink goes through the silk but not through the glue. That way you get the same image, but slightly different each time. It was all so simple-quick and chancy. I was thrilled with it. My first experiments with screens were heads of Troy Donahue and Warren Beatty, and then when Marilyn Monroe happened to die that month, I got the idea to make screens of her beautiful face - the first Marilyns" (A. Warhol, quoted in A. Warhol & P. Hackett, Popism, New York, 1980, p. 28).
The sense of spontaneity and risk, where no two canvases two canvases are the same, is what sparked Warhol's enthusiasm for this method of image making, along with the fact that it enabled him to harvest the mass of media images for his source material. Although often regarded as being the antithesis of so-called 'action painting' Warhol felt the silkscreen process alluded to a similar artistic language. For Warhol the gestural nature and energe need to force the ink through the screen replicated the energetic methods of Pollock's drops and de Kooning's brushstrokes.
Marilyn was also one of the first paintings in which Warhol introduced what became his signature range of vibrant colors. Although the Pop Art movement was defined partly by its often vivacious use of pigment, much of Warhol's earlier work was executed in monotones and it was only in 1962 that he first began to use an increasing number of colors on the same canvas. Marilyn's background of fresh phthalo green is complemented by Monroe's halo of golden hair and the fleshy pink tones of her complexion. The bold swathes of color helped to map out the broad areas of the composition while the half-tone screen that was applied in black gave the face its particular definition. The finishing touches of detail - the eyes, lips and other facial features - were then added with a final flourish of the artist's brush.
Warhol's Marilyn has become one of the most iconic images he ever produced. Examples from this series are now in major private and museum collections around the world including the founding collection of the Andy Warhol Museum. The shock of Warhol's ingenuity at capturing the true essence of celebrity impressed critics of his 1962 show at the Stable Gallery which debuted Warhol's Marilyn series, as highlighted by critic Michael Fried, "An art like Warhol's is necessarily parasitic upon the myths of our time, and indirectly therefore on the machinery of fame and publicity that these myths; and it is not unlikely that these myths that move us will be unintelligible (or at least starkly dated) to generations that follow. This is...to register as advance protest against the advent of a generation that will not be as moved by Warhol's beautiful, vulgar, heartbreaking icons of Marilyn Monroe as I am. These, I think, are the most successful pieces in the show...because...Marilyn is one of the overriding myths of our time." (M. Fried, quoted in G. Freid and N. Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné of Painting and Sculpture 1961-1963, vol. 1, New York, 2002, 247). It is a demonstration of the enduring nature of Warhol's art that Fried's worries about the lasting impact of Warhol's Marilyn have proved to be unfounded as his image of Monroe have become some of the most admired and sought after of the past half-century.