Andy Warhol published the Marilyn Monroe complete portfolio in 1967. It comprises ten silkscreen prints depicting the infamous actress in Warhol’s signature Pop Art style. The series is one of the artist’s most famous works of all time. The complete Marilyn Monroe portfolio ranks in Warhol’s top 10 most valuable portfolios. Additionally, certain prints from the series are included in the artist’s 10 most valuable individual prints ever sold.
The 1960’s marked the beginning of Andy Warhol’s cultural dominance. His iconic depictions of American products like Campbell’s Soup and Coca-Cola bottles made him a household name, and a lightning rod for controversy. However, his celebrity depictions are arguably what made his style an effective cultural force—one that’s still universally recognized today. The most significant of these works is certainly the Marilyn Monroe portfolio. Here, Warhol famously created “an icon out of an icon,” immortalizing the actress forever.
As in the majority of Warhol’s portfolios, all ten screenprints are based on a single image, manipulated in different ways. For the Marilyn prints, he used a publicity photograph taken by Gene Korman for Monroe’s 1953 film Niagara. Warhol’s decision to use the photograph began an early controversy about his use of copyrighted material and his artistic integrity; a conversation which would surround many of the artist’s most notable pieces. Nonetheless, such works helped acquaint audiences with a signature part of Warhol’s style: the ability to transform a famous image; to simultaneously celebrate and parody cultural iconography.
In the context of Warhol’s early oeuvre, one can compare his use of a publicity still to his use of branded imagery. In this view, works like the Marilyn Monroe portfolio demonstrate the commodification of personality and the blurred lines between brand and personhood, just as much as they celebrate an iconic subject. Warhol’s landmark pieces of the 1960’s contain representations of some of the most widespread images of Americana. His inclusion of celebrity portraits helped immortalize them throughout every passing cultural moment.
Warhol created the portfolio only five years after Monroe’s suicide in 1962. Much of her posthumous fame focused on her as a tragic figure, defined in the national conversation by her untimely overdose. For Warhol, her continuously evolving fame was fascinating. His portfolio, with its use of vibrant contrast, captured the bright and lively character she projected during her life. As such, the portfolio not only stands out as an important artistic achievement, but as an important piece of American history as well.
The Marilyn Monroe portfolio is also noted as an early encapsulation of Warhol’s idiosyncratic style. The series comprises the first prints published by Warhol’s printing company, called Factory Additions, which he started in order to produce his signature high-volume print sets. Additionally, the pieces strongly reflect the loud colors and vibrant energy which became a trademark of Warhol’s work. The vibrant pinks, deep reds, and neon greens all provide bright contrast that defined the Pop Art movement, and cemented the still universally recognizable Pop aesthetic.
Ultimately, the Marilyn Monroe portfolio is, in every way, a defining series for Andy Warhol. The depiction of Monroe as a symbol of celebrity life reflects some of the most provocative ideas in Warhol’s artistic philosophy. The repetitive nature of the series, which Warhol mass-produced at the Factory, suggests the commodification of Monroe’s infamous personality. He prints Monroe the same way he prints Campbell’s Soup, as an object of consumption. Aesthetically, the style defines the ultimate standard of Pop Art. The portraits’ fame and cultural purchase reflect Warhol’s deepest aspirations and contributions to our understanding of what art is.
The Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) complete portfolio, printed in 1967 by Aetna Silkscreen Products, Inc. New York, includes ten screenprints on paper: FS II.22 through FS II.31.
Marilyn Monroe as Part of Andy Warhol’s Larger Body of Work
After the the success of the Campbell’s Soup series in the early 1960s, Warhol began creating screenprints of movie star portraits including Elvis Presley and Elizabeth Taylor. In addition, Warhol expanded into the realm of performance art with a traveling multimedia show between 1966 and 1967, called The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which featured the rock band The Velvet Underground. Warhol also worked with his Superstar performers and various other people to create hundreds of films between 1963 and 1968. These films were scripted and improvised, ranging from conceptual experiments and simple narratives to short portraits and sexploitation features. Some of his works include Empire (1964), The Chelsea Girls (1966), and The Screen Tests (1964-66). ‘