Andy Warhol and Marilyn Monroe: The Tragic Reason Behind Pop Artist’s Legendary Tribute to Film Star

Celebrity pop artist Andy Warhol transformed the art world. He used his talent to create beauty out of everyday objects. Warhol is best known for his renditions of everything from Campbell’s Soup Cans to Coca-Cola. Some of his most legendary and best-known works have been of celebrities whose influence on popular culture made them icons. These included Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley, Muhammed Ali, Jackie Kennedy, and Marilyn Monroe.

The latter’s portrait has since become the highest-grossing piece of artwork in American history. However, what was the tragic reason Warhol decided to paint the legendary sex symbol in the first place?

Side by side photographs of Andy Warhol and his Marilyn Monroe painting.
Andy Warhol and his Marilyn Monroe painting | Brownie Harris/Dia Dipasupil/ Getty Images

Why did Andy Warhol paint celebrities?

Warhol became legendary for his use of bright colors and artwork featuring everyday items. He also painted portraits of some of the most iconic celebrities in modern history.

As if looking into the future of today’s celebrity, Warhol predicted anyone could find 15-minutes of fame. However, what they did with that fame cemented their place in popular culture.

Some of Warhol’s most famous works of art were his depictions of celebrities.

Fascinated by the idea of fame, Warhol captured some of the most iconic celebrities of his generation.

The tragic reason Andy Warhol painted Marilyn Monroe

Andy Warhol used his talent as an artist to paint celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe.

Monroe was working on her final film, Something’s Got to Give when she died from an overdose of sleeping pills in 1962.

This tragedy shocked the entertainment industry.

Her untimely death spurred Warhol to make Monroe the first subject of his new screen printing technique.

The painting is based on an image of a screen still from Monroe’s 1953 film Niagara.

Warhol spoke of the art technique used to create the print to Popism in 1980, as reported by MOMA.

“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. The ink goes through the silk but not through the glue,” Warhol explained.

“That way, you get the same image, slightly different each time. It all sounds so simple—quick and chancy. I was thrilled with it. My first experiments with screens were with the heads of Troy Donahue and Warren Beatty. When Marilyn Monroe happened to die that month (August 1962), I got the idea to make screens of her beautiful face.”

Warhol’s ‘Shot Sage Blue Marilyn’ is the highest-grossing painting sold at auction by an American artist

Andy Warhol's Shot Sage Blue Marilyn Painting at Christie's in New York City.
Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn Painting at Christie’s in New York City | Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

In March 2022, The New York Times reported that “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” would be auctioned off via Christie’s New York.

Subsequently, money generated from the painting’s sale benefits the Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation Zurich. This organization supports children’s health care and educational programs.

In just four minutes the 1964 silkscreen sold for $195 million.

This price made Warhol’s interpretation of Marilyn the highest-grossing piece of auctioned American artwork.

“The most significant 20th-century painting to come to auction in a generation. Andy Warhol’s ‘Marilyn’ is the absolute pinnacle of American Pop and the promise of the American dream. Encapsulating optimism, fragility, celebrity, and iconography all at once,” said Alex Rotter, Christie’s chairman for 20th and 21st-century to The New York Times.

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