Lot 38
  • 38

Andy Warhol

3,000,000 - 4,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Andy Warhol
  • Four Pink Marilyns (Reversal Series)
  • signed and dated 86 on the overlap
  • acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
  • 36 1/8 x 28 in. 91.7 x 71 cm.
  • Executed in 1986, this work is stamped by the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board, Inc. and numbered A107.999 on the overlap.


Galerie Watari, Tokyo
Acquired by the present owner from the above in July 1987

Catalogue Note

“Warhol turned Marilyn Monroe into an emblem for our age."

D. Keith Mano, 'Warhol: Andy Warhol', National Review, 22 January, 1988


In 1962 Andy Warhol cemented Marilyn’s status as a cult icon with his elegiac portraits; executed more than twenty years later in 1986, Warhol’s Four Pink Marilyns (Reversal Series) confirms not only the timeless quality of the famed actresses celebrity but also the symbolic power of Warhol and his art. Repeated four times in negative register, the present work is a stand-out example of Warhol’s deeply reflective yet conceptually forward-looking Reversals series. The relative torpidity of Warhol’s 1970s production gave way at the beginning of the 1980s to a re-invigorated set of artistic concerns. In line with appropriationist strategies of burgeoning artists such as Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman, Warhol began to quote from and interrogate his own pantheon of 1960s icons. Appropriating Warhol as a brand, Four Pink Marilyns (Reversal Series) presents an incandescent x-ray recapitulation of one of the most captivating and celebrated inquiries of his career. Though the re-iteration and repetition of iconic personalities and consumer products had long been the very cornerstone of Warhol’s practice, this new retroactive body of work kindled a climactic transfiguration of the artist’s formative concerns and mythology. As explicated by Roberto Marrone: “All the images Warhol used in the Retrospectives and Reversals ranked among his most memorable and commercial icons… These were the images that made him famous – the icons, symbols and brands through which he had made his own name and which had therefore to some extent become associated with his own life, history, career and myth. In repeating these same images in a new ‘reversed’ and negative form in 1979, Warhol now bestowed upon them a new and altogether darker and more somber mood reflective of the respective distance in time between their original use and the later moment of their re-creation.” (Roberto Marrone in Exh. Cat., Zurich, Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Andy Warhol: Big Retrospective Painting, 2009, p. 32)

The present work stands at the pinnacle of Warhol’s appropriative practice. Where in the coming years he would lift imagery directly from artists as varied and eclectic as Lucas Cranach, Paolo Ucello, Edvard Munch, and Giorgio de Chirico, in this instance he called upon his own repertoire. Four Pink Marilyns (Reversal Series) is not only typical of the artist in its subversion, but also in its pervasive mood of self-aggrandisement. Through probing the prevalent contemporaneous dialogue of authorship and authenticity, and implicitly endorsing his own artistic code, Warhol created a composition charged with visual impact, and replete with conceptual force. Rather than accentuating lip-hue and exaggerating hair color, Monroe’s repeated likeness appears as a floodlit negative, saturated by luminous bubble-gum pink. The highlighting of shadows and plunging of mid-tones into darkness imparts a ghostly dematerialization of his subject; these shadowy faces appear reduced to their index, invoking a spectral imprint. Standing at the very apex of Warhol’s project of appropriation, Four Pink Marilyns (Reversal Series) not only probes the prevalent dialogue of authorship and authenticity but also interrogates Warhol’s own artistic code with unparalleled visual impact.

With Marilyn Monroe Warhol discovered a memento mori to unite the obsessions driving his career: glamour, beauty, fame, and death. The present work brings to the fore the entire aura of Marilyn as sex-symbol and Hollywood legend; moreover, we are also implicitly presented with the specter of mortality. The pure dichotomy of the black silkscreen ink on the pink ground denotes the glamour and glory of cinema, black and white camera film, the silver screen, and the candy-colored artificiality of that fantasy. At the same time, Warhol's method of constructing this image, via the mechanical silkscreen, stands as metaphor for the means and effects of mass-media and its inherent potential to manipulate and condition. These thematic strata function in simultaneous concert to deliver a work of phenomenal conceptual brilliance. As a definitive international star and sex-symbol, Marilyn epitomized the unattainable essence of superstardom that Warhol craved. However, despite his famous 1968 adage, "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings," Warhol's fascination held purpose far beyond mere idolization. As Rainer Crone explained in 1970, Warhol was interested in movie stars above all else because they were "people who could justifiably be seen as the nearest thing to representatives of mass culture." (Rainer Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1970, p. 22) Warhol was singularly drawn to the image of Marilyn, as he was later to Elvis, Marlon, Liz, and Jackie, because he implicitly understood the concurrence between the projection of their image and the projection of their brand. The artist wrote: "In the early days of film, fans used to idolize a whole star - they would take one star and love everything about that star...So you should always have a product that's not just 'you.' An actress should count up her plays and movies and a model should count up her photographs and a writer should count up his words and an artist should count up his pictures so you always know exactly what you're worth, and you don't get stuck thinking your product is you and your fame, and your aura." (Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), San Diego, New York and London, 1977, p. 86)

Warhol instinctively understood the Marilyn brand as an industrialized construct, designed for mass consumption like a Coca-Cola bottle or Campbell's Soup Can, and radically revealed it as a precisely composed non-reality. Of course Marilyn offered Warhol the biggest brand of all, and he accentuated this by choosing a manifestly contrived version of Marilyn as the definitive sex -symbol. Although this image of Marilyn has come to stand as the instantly-recognizable emblem of her global fame, encapsulating as it does so perfectly every aspect of her enduring allure, it is an entirely dehumanized portrait, devoid of any of the psychosomatic realities that proved ultimately fatal for Norma Jeane Mortenson on the night of August 5 1962. Moreover, the negative reversal of her image magnifies the ghostliness of her visage, resulting in a compellingly haunting memorial to the screen siren. Even after the brutal reality and terminal tragedy of her suicide, the artificial veneer of a projected image remains the enduring legacy of a human life. Several years later Warhol reflected: "Everything is sort of artificial. I don't know where the artificial stops and the real starts. The artificial fascinates me, the bright and shiny..."  (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., Stockholm, Moderna Museet and traveling, Andy Warhol, 1968, n.p.) With the further temporal and formal remove of the image’s negative impression, Warhol emphasized the very postmodern notion of image production and circulation through the endlessly reproduced visage of Marilyn Monroe. Warhol celebrated and critiqued the power of the icon like no other artist of the Twentieth Century, and Four Pink Marilyns (Reversal Series) interrogates the limits of the popular visual vernacular, posing vital questions of collective perception in contemporary society.

Four Pink Marilyns (Reversal Series) celebrates a subject that permeated mass-consumer consciousness without comparison, and as such, is a principal icon of Warhol's art. It is a testament to the remarkable force of his art that today his most famous image is probably as renowned as the blonde superstar herself.