Warhol’s Marilyn

Warhol’s Marilyn

On 9 May, Christie’s  20th/21st Century sale week in New York concluded with auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen, Christie’s Global President, hammering down Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn for a record $195,040,000, making it the most expensive 20th-century artwork ever sold at auction.

Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn became not only the most expensive 20th century artwork to sell at auction, but also the second most expensive work to sell at auction of all time — just behind Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which sold at Christie’s in 2017.

Central to Warhol’s pantheon of pop icons, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn immortalises Monroe as the embodiment of celebrity, while cementing her image into the art historical canon. As an emblem of the American Pop Art movement, Marilyn represented the optimism and individuality and of the post-war Renaissance, fame, and celebrity. And yet, 60 years after Monroe’s untimely death, Warhol’s image has become so much more than the symbol of a single artistic movement. Marilyn is a masterpiece, not bound to time or place.

ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
Shot Sage Blue Marilyn
signed and dated ‘Andy Warhol / 64’ (on the overlap)
acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen
40 x 40 in. (101.6 x 101.6 cm.)
Painted in 1964.

Consider how you interpret colour

Consider how you interpret colour

Georges Seurat (1859–1891), Poseuses (1886-8)

Poseuse debout, de face (1886)

All painting is a form of optical illusion, but pointillism, the technique Seurat pioneered in the 1880s, aims to deconstruct the act of seeing itself. He was keenly interested in how the eye interprets colour, and drawn to the theories of the chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul. Chevreul explored the workings of colour after he became director of the historic Gobelins tapestry factory in 1824.

He observed that two colours, when placed near to one another, would look like a third colour when viewed from a distance, and called the effect ‘simultaneous contrast’.

Chevreul advised painters to incorporate such colour contrasts into their work, referring to its affect as ‘harmony’; Seurat was interested in the way it evoked emotion. This visual manifestation of emotion as a sense of blurred vibration, is part of what makes his works so captivating. His Poseuse debout, de face (1886), serves as illustration in this argument. See how the particulate blue light floats in front of the model’s body, colouring her skin, but also catching her up in a swirl of atmosphere, a little cyclone of vibrating beingness. Although the model stands in a studio, the colourful aura reminds one of the air on a beach at dusk, when one can almost see the negative ions shimmer, all forms revealed as a swarm of atoms, electric.

Michelangelo’s first nude – a drawing rediscovered

Michelangelo’s first nude – a drawing rediscovered

A nude man surrounded by two figures comes in pen and two shades of brown ink. His shoulders hunched, his arms crossed. The stance that of the shivering man waiting to be baptised by Saint Peter in the fresco The Baptism of the Neophytes in the Brancacci Chapel in Florence.

Marking an important shift in the development of Renaissance art, it soon became a site of devotion for artists as well as churchgoers, among them the young Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564). 

He made several studies from the frescoes, including a recently rediscovered drawing, A nude man (after Masaccio) and two figures behind, that will be sold at Christie’s Paris on 18 May in the single-lot auction.

While the position of the central figure in Michelangelo’s version is the same as in Masaccio’s fresco, he has added a more defined musculature.

Michelangelo made the figure much more robust and monumental, while at the same time keeping the fragility of the figure, who is exposed and shivering.

He did this by subtly shifting the position of the feet and redrawing the head a little, but especially by emphasising the back and the buttocks of the man.


Part of the church of Santa Maria del Carmine, the Brancacci Chapel in Florence was painted with a cycle of scenes from the life of the apostle by Masaccio (1401-28), together with his colleague Masolino and later completed by Filippino Lippi.

Revealing Leonardo da Vinci’s secrets

Revealing Leonardo da Vinci’s secrets

New research into one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous works has revealed fresh information about an abandoned composition hidden under the painting.

Experts have found initial designs for the angel and infant Christ beneath the surface of the Virgin of the Rocks. The designs are significantly different to how they look in the final painting, which hangs in the National Gallery. The hidden designs were revealed using macro X-ray fluorescence maps and infrared and hyperspectral imaging.

Virgin of the Rocks with the original underdrawing laid on top. (National Gallery)

The hidden underdrawing beneath Virgin of the Rocks. National Gallery.

An earlier discovery in 2005 revealed the Virgin’s pose had been changed, but there were only hints of the other figures. According to the National Gallery’s head of conservation Larry Keith, the discoveries “give new insight into how da Vinci was thinking”. The new research reveals the angel and the infant Christ were originally positioned higher up in the drawing, with the former facing out and looking down.

It is not known why Leonardo abandoned his original composition.

Mr Keith told the BBC that it fitted “into a wider narrative of how we understand him as an artist who was always changing, adjusting and revising”. 

Leonardo was commissioned to paint the Virgin of the Rocks to decorate a chapel altarpiece in Milan in 1483.

Its full title is The Virgin with the Infant Saint John the Baptist adoring the Christ Child accompanied by an Angel.

A different version of the painting hangs in the Louvre in Paris. The two versions were brought together for an exhibition in 2011.

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