One of Andy Warhol's iconic Marilyn Monroe portraits could become the most expensive 20th-century artwork ever auctioned, with Christie's anticipating bids "in the region of" $200 million. The 40-square-inch "Shot Sage Blue Marilyn," one of the dozens of images the artist created of Monroe in the 1960s, will be auctioned off in New York this May, according to the auction house. Along with his signature paintings of Campbell's soup cans, Warhol's colorful reproductions of the Hollywood star's portrait – originally publicity still from her 1953 film "Niagara" – are among his most recognizable works.
He began producing them in 1962, shortly after Monroe's death, using a technique known as silkscreen printing, which duplicates images on paper or canvas using a layer of fine-mesh silk as a stencil. The Pop artist created numerous versions of Monroe's portrait in various colors and configurations, as he did for other famous figures such as Elvis Presley and Chinese leader Mao Zedong.
Among the most well-known is the "Marilyn Diptych," which is owned by the British gallery group Tate and features Warhol printing a grid of 50 portraits across two canvases. Other works by the artist include "Gold Marilyn Monroe" at the Museum of Modern Art, which features a single image printed against a gold background, and "Shot Marilyns," in which the artist shoots portraits of the star through the head with bullets. According to Christie's, he developed a "more refined and time-intensive" new process in 1964 that was "antithetical to the mass production he was best known for." That year, he used it to create a small number of portraits – a rare group of works to which "Shot Sage Blue Marilyn" belongs – before abandoning it.
A few paintings are thought to have fetched more than $200 million in private sales (including works by Abstract Expressionist painters Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock), but the feat has only been achieved once at auction — by Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," which sold for more than $450 million in 2017. In 2015, Pablo Picasso's "Les Femmes d'Alger (Version O)" sold for $179.4 million, setting a new auction record for a 20th-century painting. "Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)," which depicts the mangled aftermath of a road collision, currently holds the auction record for a Warhol work, having sold for more than $105 million almost a decade ago. Several of his Marilyn images have also fetched large sums at auction in recent years, with "White Marilyn" from 1962 fetching $41 million in New York in 2014.
Meanwhile, "Shot Sage Blue Marilyn" was owned by a number of prominent gallerists and collectors before being purchased by the late Swiss art dealer Thomas Ammann. According to a press release, it is being auctioned off by the Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation Zurich, a charitable organization established in his (and his sister's) name that will use the proceeds to fund health and education programs for children worldwide.
The portrait, described by Christie's as "one of the rarest and most transcendent images in existence," has been shown at galleries such as the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Tate Modern in London. Alex Rotter, Christie's chairman of 20th and 21st-century art, described the work as "the absolute pinnacle of American Pop" and "the most significant 20th-century painting to come to auction in a generation" in a press statement. "Standing alongside Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus,' Da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa,' and Picasso's 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," he continued, "Warhol's 'Marilyn' is categorically one of the greatest paintings of all time, and it's a once in a generation opportunity to present this masterpiece publicly at auction."