One of Andy Warhol's iconic Marilyn Monroe portraits has become the most expensive 20th-century artwork ever to sell at auction.
The 40-square-inch Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, one of dozens of images the artist made of Monroe in the 1960s, sold for a record $195 million Monday night at Christie's in New York.
Prior to the sale, Christie's had described the painting as "one of the rarest and most transcendent images in existence." It has previously been shown at galleries including the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and London's Tate Modern.
Christie's had initially said it was expecting bids "in the region of" $200 million.
After less than four minutes of bidding, the work was reportedly purchased in the salesroom by mega-dealer Larry Gagosian, who declined to say whether he bought the work for himself or a client.
The portrait was offered along with 35 other lots from the estate of Swiss sibling dealers Thomas and Doris Ammann. The sale generated $317.8 million total. All proceeds from the Marilyn sale will go to the Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation Zurich, which helps children with healthcare and educational programs.
“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. The painting transcends the genre of portraiture in America, superseding 20th century art and culture," said Alex Rotter, Christie’s chairman of 20th and 21st century art. "Standing alongside Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Warhol’s Marilyn is categorically one of the greatest paintings of all time.”
The auction record for a Warhol work was previously held by Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), which depicts the mangled aftermath of a road collision and sold for more than $105 million almost a decade ago. Several of the artist's other Marilyn images have also attracted huge sum at auction in recent years, including 1962's White Marilyn that sold for $41 million at Christie's in 2014.
Shot Sage Blue Marilyn is one of five similar portraits of Monroe created by the artist in 1964. Each features a different background color: red, orange, light blue, sage blue and turquoise. Four of the five (excluding the turquoise) are known collectively as The Shot Marilyns in honor of an infamous incident that took place at the Factory, Warhol’s New York City studio, in the fall of 1964, when performance artist Dorothy Podber shot the four stacked canvases with a revolver.
A handful of paintings, including works by Abstract Expressionists Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, have sold for excess of $200 million in private sales. But only one painting has passed that mark at auction: Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which sold for over $450 million at Christie's in 2017 and has been the subject of much debate in the art world.