Famous Paintings: Marilyn Diptych and Gold Marilyn
An art history blog post from Famous Paintings Reviewed.
Five famous paintings aren't in Masterpiece Cards' set of 250 art history cards, even though our methodology included them. One of these masterpiece paintings is Gold Marilyn by Andy Warhol.
Born Andrew Warhola (1928-87), he grew up during the Depression in a middle class Pittsburgh neighborhood (not far from
Andy Warhol. Marilyn Diptych, 1962. Oil, acrylic, and silkscreen enamel on canvas. Tate Gallery, London.
the present Warhol Museum). He was graduated from present-day Carnegie Mellon with a B. F. A., and became one of the most successful illustrators in the 1950s while also producing movies, sculpting, photographing, and painting.
As a painter, Warhol expropriated common media images - comic strips, sheets of stamps, ads for dance classes, photos of wanted criminals, pages from tabloids - and painted them in acrylic on canvas. Sometime in 1962, though, he began screenprinting photographic images directly on to canvas, usually in multiples, like his iconic Campbell soup cans.
When Campbell's Soup Cans was first exhibited, each of the 32 paintings (the number of soup varieties then available) rested on a wall-mounted shelf, simulating placement in a grocery store. This
Andy Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans, 1962. Synthetic polymer paint on thirty-two canvases, each canvas 20 x 16". MoMA, New York.
mass production of art depicting ordinary objects blurred the historical distinction between fine art and pop culture - and Warhol became a Pop art sensation.
Perhaps his most famous art, though, is the celebrity series of Marilyn Monroe. Begun in 1962, these works paid homage to the actress and national icon who had just committed suicide.
Reworking a well-known publicity photo of Monroe from her 1953 movie, Niagara, Warhol transforms it into a stilted, mask-like impression of Monroe: this is the glamorous star, the actress, the former wife of baseball great Joe DiMaggio and of playwright Arthur Miller, but not an individual.
His first use of this photo was in Marilyn Diptych - 25 photos are arranged on a color panel and 25 others on its adjoining black and white one. The diptych format, often seen with icons of Christian saints, suggests the reverence with which Monroe was regarded.
In the black and white panels, her image is unevenly printed, smeared in one column and barely visible in another. Although Warhol claimed there wasn't symbolism here, it's hard to dodge - the omnipresence of her face isn't portraying the woman.
Warhol again used this mask-like photo in Gold Marilyn, and again reminds the viewer of all we never knew about Marilyn. Here Marilyn is on a lavish, expansive gold background, world- renowned yet again isolated in Warhol art.
Silkscreen ink on synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 6' 11 1/4" x 57" (211.4 x 144.7 cm). Gift of Philip Johnson. MoMA, New York.
Perhaps Warhol, with a middle class, immigrant upbringing, identified with the dissonance between Monroe's personal and public life as he,too, navigated a world of glamour.
In Warhol's case - dissonance or not - he continued to work prolifically as a moviemaker, painter, producer of TV shows, sculptor, writer (including Saturday Night Live), producer of music videos, and photographer before his death in 1987.
Note to the curious: in 2005 the Museum of Modern Art limited how many of its famous paintings I could purchase reproduction rights for, so that Gold Marilyn (and four others) aren't included in Masterpiece Cards.