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Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe portrait sells for record $195 million

Andy Warhol’s 1964 “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” sold for a hammer price of $170 million at Christie’s on May 9. Added fees gave it a final price of $195 million. (Video: AP)
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An iconic 1964 silk-screen portrait of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol sold for a little more than $195 million in New York on Monday night, the highest price ever paid for an American artwork at auction.

Nearly 60 years after the film star’s death, “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” outdid a previous high of $110.5 million, paid in 2017 for a skull painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat. It also became the second-most expensive artwork to ever sell at auction, according to the auction house Christie’s — behind Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” which fetched more than $450 million in 2017.

The Warhol portrait, described by Christie’s art expert Alex Rotter as “one of the greatest paintings of all time,” sold in about four minutes of bidding to dealer Larry Gagosian. It wasn’t clear on whose behalf he was bidding. A Christie’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Monday.

Monday night’s sale marked the start of New York’s spring auction season, which is returning to life after a two-year lull caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The record sale was set as investors seek out safe-haven investments, such as art, amid uncertainty in global financial markets fueled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Pre-auction, the portrait had been expected to fetch as much as $400 million. The total price was ultimately $195,040,000.

According to Christie’s, the news of Monroe’s death on Aug. 5, 1962, “struck a personal chord for Warhol,” who began featuring her in his work shortly after, using a cropped publicity photo from the film “Niagara.”

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Warhol’s silk-screen series of the actress — each painted with a different background color — garnered fame after a fellow artist, Dorothy Podber, entered his studio in September 1964 and shot at the stack of prints with a pistol. (Warhol himself was badly injured in a 1968 shooting. He died in 1987 of a heart attack.)

Accounts of the Podber episode vary — some say it was a misunderstanding over the words “to shoot,” which Warhol apparently understood to be a request by Podber to photograph his work; others have described the word play as deliberate, Christie’s said in a pre-auction write-up of the work.

The works in Monday’s auction were from the estate of the Swiss art dealers Thomas and Doris Ammann. Proceeds from the art sales will go to their charitable foundation.