Andy Warhol's Marilyn: Value, Legacy & Authenticity

Gold Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol, 1962 Gold Marilyn Monroe © Andy Warhol 1962
Rebecca Marsham

Rebecca Marsham, Sales Director[email protected]

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In the 1960s, Andy Warhol caused a seismic shift not only within the art world but across the entire cultural landscape of New York. His magnetic presence and iconic screenprinted celebrity portraits transformed the way we perceive and idolise public figures, propelling both their influence and his to an unprecedented level—a legacy that endures today.

Amidst the array of celebrity portraits Warhol crafted, none is more significant in defining his artistic impact and legacy than his ultimate muse: Marilyn Monroe. In MyArtBroker's latest podcast episode, Charlotte Stewart engages in a conversation with Richard Polsky, delving into the multifaceted layers of cultural influence that Warhol's portrayal of Marilyn Monroe exerts on both the art market and the broader art world.

You can listen to the complete podcast here.

Art In Transition

Warhol, along with other Pop Art luminaries like Roy Lichtenstein and Keith Haring, emerged in an era that saw a major transformation in art appreciation. Richard Polsky describes these artists as the 'low-hanging fruit' of the art world—undeniably valuable but had yet to reach their zenith in worth. They were outsider's desperately wanting to fit in among the ranks of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg represented by gallerist Leo Castelli. The foresight of their future significance was apparent, but the staggering trajectory of their prices was unforeseeable.

Richard Polsky tells us that Warhol's ascent in the art world found its seminal moment at the Stable Gallery, an unconventional art space converted from a horse stable in New York. Eleanor Warren presided over the gallery and agreed to feature Andy's early works, including his Marilyn paintings.

The exhibition's premiere drew the attention of Castelli and his Gallery Director Ivan Karp, who were first dismissive of Warhol. Struck by the red dots adorning the wall—symbols of sold pieces Castelli and Ivan were visibly impressed by the quality and the brisk sales. The opening enjoyed a substantial turnout, underscoring Warhol's seamless transition from the advertising industry to the forefront of the art scene.

These groundbreaking works, originally named after lifesaver candy flavours associated with their bold and dramatic colours, were each priced at a mere $250 (USD) a piece.

The Marilyn Moment

Warhol's fascination with celebrity culture, especially Marilyn Monroe, culminated in his iconic Marilyn portfolio in 1967. It marked a turning point where Warhol envisioned the commercial potential of reproducing his famous images. These prints became a gateway for collectors aspiring to own a piece of Warhol's legacy but unable to access the stratospheric prices of his original paintings.

Charlotte’s conversation Richard underscores a deeper narrative—beyond financial investment, there's an intrinsic allure to owning an original piece by a blue chip artist, signed and limited, resonating as a historic artefact within one's living space.

The genesis of the Marilyn series harks back to 1962, marking the tragic passing of the beloved Hollywood icon. Warhol, ensnared by a fascination with celebrity culture, embarked on a poignant tribute—a series of paintings that captured Monroe's mystique. This marked a pivotal juncture in Warhol's artistic journey, heralding a transition from traditional hand painting to the innovative photo silkscreen technique.

“Marilyn’s last movie before she died, The Misfits–There is a presence to her. There was truth to her charisma, you couldn’t take your eyes off her. You just look at her and you’re mesmerised and it goes beyond just the physical beauty.’’
Richard Polsky on Marilyn Monroe

Richard's insights shed light on the early days when these Marilyn paintings, originally priced at a modest $250, made their debut in the art world. Their evolution from being affordable to commanding millions doesn't solely reflect their monetary value but also the profound cultural impact they've had. Fast forward five years to 1967, and Warhol embarked on a new venture into publishing. The Marilyn portfolio, featuring 10 silk screens, became his inaugural significant project in this realm. At the time, a set of these prints was available for just $500 (USD)—an amount that now seems remarkably quaint. Today, the same set commands a staggering value of five million dollars and is included in Warhol’s top ten most investable prints in 2023.

Download our Market Reports to discover Andy Warhol's most in demand prints.


“Warhol was obsessed with the theme of celebrity and the concept of the star, the person that nobody can take their eyes off. Yet, he also enjoyed the death and disaster of it all. Warhol may have never created the Marilyn portraits had she not died in such sensational circumstances. She became the ultimate muse because she had died so young.’’
Charlotte Stewart

The stark contrast in these price points highlights the incredible journey these Marilyn prints have undertaken, both in terms of their financial worth and their cultural significance. Charlotte and Richard delve into the unique allure of Warhol's Marilyn prints—vibrant colours, intense pop art aesthetics, and their contribution to elevating Marilyn to cult status, embodying the glamour that defined the icon herself. Charlotte notes that Warhol's fixation on celebrity culture and the intricate interplay between fascination and tragedy add layers to his muse's complexity.

The discussion also sheds light on Warhol's deliberate choice of a film still from “Niagara’’ as the cornerstone of his Marilyn series. This calculated decision encapsulated Warhol's talent for immortalising a frozen moment, an iconic image that transcended time and etched itself into the collective consciousness.

Richard's firsthand encounter with Warhol's monumental Marilyn Times 100 painting offers a rare glimpse into the artist's meticulous yet imperfect process. Each painting bears the imprint of Warhol's intentional imperfections, a departure from his proclaimed desire for machine-like artistic output.

From its modest beginnings to mass-produced prints, this series encapsulates Marilyn as an enduring symbol of Hollywood's golden era, resonating with audiences across generations. It's not just about the artwork itself but the cultural narrative woven around it—an evocative tale of glamour, tragedy, and Marilyn Monroe's enigmatic allure.

Ultimately, Warhol's Marilyn series serves as a harbinger of American Pop Art, elevating Monroe to an immortalised status and marking a pivotal moment in art history. The dialogue between Richard and Charlotte reveals not only Warhol's artistic brilliance but also the profound impact of Marilyn Monroe on the art world.

Legacy and Authenticity

What stands out in this discourse is the enduring significance of the Marilyn prints despite initial scepticism. Even acclaimed figures like Andre Emmerich once forecasted a depreciation in the worth of Warhol's Marilyn works. Yet, time has testified otherwise, showcasing the perpetual fascination with Marilyn Monroe's image in Warhol's portfolio—a trajectory reminiscent of the exponential rise of iconic cultural figures like the Beatles.

The prominence and cultural significance of Warhol's Marilyn have unfortunately spawned a deluge of counterfeits, making it arguably the most counterfeited Warhol art in existence. As Richard astutely highlighted, the correlation between a work's value and its susceptibility to forgery holds true across most artistic spheres. However, the exponential surge in value of Marilyn prints has led to a bewildering maze of fakes infiltrating the market.

The narrative unfurled into a tale of complexities, stemming partly from the infamous Sunday Bee Morning prints. These reproductions, originating from a publishing company in London during the 1970s, muddled the authentication process. Their existence blurred the lines between genuine prints and fakes, challenging even seasoned authenticators sush as Richard himself.

The discussion shed light on the intricate techniques employed by forgers. Richard unveiled the method of creating acetates from the original photo of Marilyn, a film still from ”Niagara.’’ These acetates serve as the groundwork for crafting fake prints using the photo silkscreen technique, complicating the task of distinguishing genuine from counterfeit.

Richard recounted a curious encounter with prints that bore impeccable signatures and numbering, fooling initial scrutiny. Yet, meticulous examination unearthed a discrepancy in dimensions—small but significant—a testament to how alterations, while not rendering the prints fake, could significantly diminish their value.

The nuances of authentication extend beyond mere visual inspection; the rubber stamps, font variations, and numbering become telltale signs in the quest for authenticity. Richard emphasised the pivotal role of provenance in verifying the legitimacy of Marilyn prints, signalling a shift in the art market's landscape where sourcing from trusted entities becomes paramount.

The conversation navigated through the intricacies of authentication, with Richard revealing the challenging nature of verifying prints compared to paintings. The prints, with their intricate details and multiple versions, pose a formidable challenge to even the most seasoned authenticators.

However, beyond the technicalities lies an evolving collector's journey. As Richard astutely observed, the market dynamics are shifting. Collectors, initially drawn to iconic pieces like Marilyn, now venture into lesser-known series seeking a sense of exclusivity and deeper artistic discovery.

The dialogue ventured into the psychology of collectors—the allure of possessing iconic pieces as a status symbol versus the discerning eye of a true art enthusiast seeking the essence of an artist's entire oeuvre.

In a world where authenticity is crucial, the conversation underscored the pivotal role of trusted sources and experienced authenticators in navigating the labyrinthine complexities of art authentication, ensuring that art enthusiasts and collectors alike traverse the path of authenticity with confidence and clarity.

Art Continuity and Market Trends

The legacy of Warhol's Marilyn prints is intrinsically tied to the ebb and flow of the art market. Richard's reflection on the transition of the Warhol market post-2008 Great Recession highlights a shift in collector behaviour. During times of economic downturn, prints emerged as an accessible alternative, with the Jasper Johns double flag print becoming a coveted item.

Furthermore, the reevaluation of once-dismissed works, like the Cowboys and Indians portfolio, underlines the evolving taste and appreciation for Warhol's repertoire. What was once overlooked now garners attention and admiration, signifying the enduring allure of Warhol's artistic breadth.

There’s an undeniable significance of Marilyn Monroe's image in Warhol's oeuvre, even amid naysayers like Andre Emmerich, whose prediction about Warhol's future worth was starkly incorrect, underestimating the enduring value of iconic figures in art. The future of Marilyn in the Warhol market seems assured, continuing to be an emblem of Warhol's legacy and the art market's evolution.

“We live in an art market now where communications are so good. Everybody knows everything about whats going on. A painting like that transcends the art market where the general media picks up on it. It's irresistible.’’
Richard Polsky on the influence of Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn

Prints: An Invaluable Entry Point

Prints act as an entry point into the realm of revered artists, enabling enthusiasts to partake in the artist's legacy. The anecdote of Marilyn prints being available for a mere $250 (USD) at their inception and now commanding hundreds of thousands or even millions encapsulates the staggering evolution in value and accessibility.

Value, Authenticity, and Market Dynamics

Richard's insights into the art market's recessionary periods, the unpredictability of art valuation, and the evolving perception of Warhol's varied works underscore a crucial facet—value is multifaceted, encompassing authenticity, historical significance, and market trends.

Marilyn Monroe, immortalised by Warhol's brushstrokes, remains an indelible icon, transcending time and market fluctuations.

Warhol's Marilyn series epitomises the artist's ability to capture the zeitgeist and echoes the perpetual fascination with celebrity culture. Beyond being a mere print, it's a gateway into an artistic legacy, a slice of art history to adorn one's walls, and a tangible testament to the evolution of the contemporary art market.

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