"Of all the painters working today in the service--or the thrall--of a popular iconography, Andy Warhol is perhaps the most single-minded and the most spectacular, I admit, to register an advance protest against the advent of a generation that will not be as moved by Warhol's beautiful, vulgar, heart-breaking icons of Marilyn Monroe as I am" (D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 134).
With her sultry stare and charming smile, Marilyn Monroe was the epitome of American glamour in the 1950s and early 60s. Idolized and emulated, her whirlwind life was only trumped by her tragic and premature demise in 1962. Her death represented a certain loss of American innocence and the impact of the young celebrity's death was felt around the world. When Andy Warhol decided to create a series in her honor, he moved away from his gilded stylized drawings of the 1950s working instead with his newly found silkscreen techniques that he had previously used for his Coke Bottle and Dollar Bills series. Warhol's first Marilyn Monroe series in 1962 represented a dynamic shift in the artist's style and career, as he moved farther away from his 1950s illustrating roots, towards the bold and visually striking multiples of celebrities that characterized his career in the early 1960s. In 1967, Warhol returned to the Monroe image once again, this time creating a series of stunning screenprints. Presented here in a complete set of ten prints, Warhol's Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) recall the exuberance and energy of the original silkscreen series in a visually striking array of color and vitality. Preserved in their original edition's box for almost their entire existence, the ten prints are in pristine condition, making them rare among surviving Warhol prints.
Warhol met Monroe a few times before her death, and had avidly followed her career. Monroe was a regular customer at Serendipity, a coffee shop on New York's Upper East Side where Warhol and his friends frequented and sold many of his drawings. Before and even more so after her death, Monroe was a departure from his fascination with other "silk-and-steel" Hollywood stars from the 1930s and 40s, like Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Marlene Dietrich. Monroe possessed a tragic romance balanced with a striking naivet\a that gave her a magnetic pull. Commenting on Warhol's attraction to the starlet, Tony Scherman stated, "Marilyn's image exuded sensual mischief and a childlike joy, but her life was a non-stop disaster-and she came to embody the gap between glamorous appearance and personal tragedy" (T. Scherman and D. Dalton, POP: The Genius of Andy Warhol, New York, 2001, p. 125). Warhol's Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) captures this juxtaposition of allure and sadness; the Technicolor wash over the black and white structure of her visage is applied as make-up, masking her true identity, yet memorializing her forever.
Warhol's signature use of repetition intensifies the crystallization of Monroe's face in the viewer's memory. While the colors shift from print to print, each one present Monroe's unwavering and direct gaze. Just as Warhol solidified the image of a Campbell's soup can as a fixed image, the public remembers Warhol's Marilyn as he painted her. Both homage to her life and a critique of the celebrity culture that triggered her fall, Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) became one of Warhol's most iconic and illustrious series. Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) celebrates its subject's life and glamour, but discreetly hints at the ephemerality of fame and fortune, an effect deepened by the viewer's knowledge of Monroe's tragic end. Marilyn Monroe is therefore the perfect encapsulation of the spirit of an age; a candy-colored memento mori.