Andy Warhol's Portrait of Marilyn Monroe Sells for $195 Million, Setting an Auction Record for an American Artist

The image of Monroe fetched a high price.
The image of Monroe fetched a high price. / Dia Dipasupil/GettyImages

You can buy a lot with $200 million. A Burgess Jubilee superyacht. (Two of them at $100 million each, actually.) A couple dozen miles of interstate highway. The services of Aaron Rodgers for four years in the NFL.

Or you could purchase a 1964 silkscreen painting of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol for a record $195 million, which is exactly what one buyer did this week.

The work, titled Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, was one of several works rendered by Warhol in the 1960s following Monroe’s death in 1962. He based the series on a promotional image of the actress from the 1953 film Niagara. The portraits are identified as “shot” because a woman named Dorothy Podber once entered Warhol’s studio and fired a gun at a stack of them, leaving a bullet hole in several. (As the story goes, Podber, infamous in the art scene for being unpredictable, asked Warhol if she could “shoot” the paintings. Thinking she wanted to photograph them, he agreed. The Christie’s offering was unharmed.)

The painting was consigned to Christie’s by the estate of Swiss art dealers Thomas and Doris Ammann (the siblings purchased it in 1986) and is considered the highest amount paid for the work of an American artist at auction. (Private sales are another story: another Warhol, Shot Orange Marilyn, fetched $240 million.) 

And if you want to get technical about it, the painting sold for $170 million: The extra $25 million includes auction fees.

The previous record holder was for a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat that nabbed $110.5 million in 2017.

So who bought it? That is likely to remain a mystery, at least for now. The bids were submitted by an intermediary, leaving the purchaser undisclosed. Some speculated it could be film producer David Geffen or Amazon chair Jeff Bezos, but both have denied it via representatives.

The transaction may seem like the wildest indulgences of the super-rich, but consider: the proceeds from the sale will be going to fund health care programs for underprivileged children.

[h/t Vanity Fair]