The Marilyn paintings are among Warhol’s most iconic works and one of the most famous series of his career. It’s also one of the most copied, but nothing beats the originals.
The paintings depict a glamorous image of Marilyn Monroe taken from a publicity shot for The Misfits, which was released in 1961, two years after her death. The nine-picture series includes depictions of Monroe in various roles she played during her acting career, including as herself and in the film How to Marry a Millionaire.
The following is a brief synopsis of the creation of this series by Andy Warhol:
Warhol took photographs of each subject using Polaroid’s instant camera, then drew over them with felt-tip pens in black or silver paint. The screen-printing process was used to produce multiple copies.
These were done on five different kinds of canvases: hand-stretched canvas, regular canvas on stretcher bars, wooden panels, wrapped canvas and finally aluminium panels. Then they were sprayed with silver paint and rubbed down with the back of a spoon using a mixture of Vaseline and turpentine to make them shiny.
**Because he wanted to be able to mass-produce these images without having to start from scratch each time he would use
“The Marilyn series was one of the first things I did when I moved to New York.” – Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol’s 1962-64 Marilyn Monroe series is a group of about twenty silk screen paintings of the famous actress, who died in 1962. The series caused a sensation when it first went on display at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in February 1963. These works are ostensibly simple: they depict Warhol’s subject matter and style, which was derived from comic strips and magazine advertising. They were made by silk-screening a single colour, red, across white sheets of paper measuring 30″ x 40″. In total, Warhol produced twenty works in this series: five of them with additional colour (blue, yellow and black), five with an image that had been reworked multiple times on different pieces of paper (they have varying degrees of graininess) and nine unfinished studies.
The Marilyn Monroe pictures were amongst the earliest series to be produced by Andy Warhol in his new role as a successful artist. Before this he had worked for various advertising agencies as a commercial illustrator, and also produced illustrations for book jackets and magazines. He had used images from advertisements to create drawings since the late 1950s, but had only been making screen prints for
Many of the most memorable images from pop art are derived from advertising, and Andy Warhol’s work is no exception. Warhol was a master at manipulating sources to produce something new and exciting. The Marilyn Monroe prints are a perfect example.
The Marilyn Monroe series is based on a famous advertisement for the film Niagara, in which Marilyn appears along with a photo of her taken by Lawrence Schiller, and the film’s star, Joseph Cotten. Warhol used these images as a base and then incorporated other elements into the final product. He placed the original ad next to a picture of James Dean and combined them using Scotch tape to create an image that blurred the distinction between advertisement, celebrity photography, and fine art.
This process can be seen in one version of Marilyn Monroe in Red Velvet (1962), where two pieces of Monroes joined at the waist appear to form a single figure. He also used this technique in creating his prints. In some cases he worked with one particular image for years before it became a final print, such as his famous series based on his own signature.
Andy Warhol’s Marilyn series is a great example of how the pop art artist transformed celebrity images into icons of culture. The process was not as simple as it might have seemed, however. It took time, many versions and prototypes, and a painstaking effort on the part of Warhol and his team to get things right.
Nowadays, with all the technological advances in printing and publishing, it is difficult to imagine that Warhol had to wait until the early 1960s before he could realistically depict a celebrity image on canvas. Prior to that time, quality reproduction of photographs and drawings was beyond the capability of the technology then available. But when Warhol began his series he was able to utilize new printing technology for his Marilyn images.
The complexity behind this seemingly simple portrait set is evident in a series of six paintings by Warhol depicting Monroe at different times in her career. Each painting includes a portrait of Marilyn with one or two other images associated with her public persona: one from a movie still and another from an advertisement or magazine illustration. The canvases are named after their date of origin and include Portrait (1962), Two-Fisted Marilyn (1962), Monroe (1963), Triple-Manson (1963), Marilyn Diptych (1964) and Marilyn
In the late 1950s, as Andy Warhol was becoming a rising star in the New York art world, he was also trying to make a name for himself as a commercial illustrator. He had already done several cover illustrations for Glamour and Mademoiselle magazine, but he wanted to do something even more prestigious.
For this reason, in 1960, Warhol was commissioned by his friend Maurice Girodias to design the cover of an upcoming Grove Press book by Truman Capote called “A House on the Island.” The book was originally supposed to be a collection of short stories, but Capote ended up writing only one story for the book, entitled “The Muses are Heard.” The book was then changed into a collection of poems written by various authors.
Capote wanted Warhol to illustrate it, and Capote paid him $250 as well as agreed to buy 5 of his paintings.
Warhol produced several illustrations for the book. One illustration featured Capote’s head superimposed on a nude male body; another featured Marilyn Monroe’s face over an image of female dancers from a painting by Degas. But neither were used.
However, when Warhol asked Girodias for his original fee of $500 (plus $500
“How does he do it?” is a question that has plagued the art world ever since Andy Warhol began to produce his famous silk-screens of Marilyn Monroe and other celebrities. “Doesn’t he have to work from photographs?” (No. In fact, the process seems to make a virtue out of not working from life.) “Doesn’t he use airbrushes?” (No again. The soft quality of the paint comes from soft brushes.) “Doesn’t he feel like an impostor?” (Yes, but he doesn’t think it matters.)
To make the kind of picture that has become his trademark, Warhol first draws a grid on canvas or paper with T squares and triangles. He then paints the face in primary colors — reds, yellows, blues — and often outlines it in black. Then he fills in the background with black. Sometimes he uses a projector to help him fill in the background; sometimes he just goes by eye.
When asked how long it takes him to complete one of his works, Warhol says: “I never thought about it.” When asked if it took more than one day, he said: “It depends on what mood I’m in.”
Although he has been painting for eight years