Warhol's Marilyn Monroe painting sold for record-breaking $195m

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Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Andy Warhol's "Shot Sage Blue Marilyn" at an auction preview in April

An iconic painting of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol has been auctioned for $195m (£158.17m) - making it the most expensive piece of 20th Century art ever sold.

The painting, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, was painted by Warhol in 1964 using a famous photograph as inspiration.

The amount is also the highest ever paid for an American work of art.

The Christie's auction in New York was widely seen as a symbol of the luxury art market's health.

Ahead of the auction, Christie's wrote that the painting is "one of the rarest and most transcendent images in existence", with a selling price "in the region" of $200m.

The auction ended with a sale price of $170m, which rose to $195m with taxes and fees taken into account.

The previous record price for a piece of American artwork was $110.5m for a skull painting created in 1982 by Warhol's sometimes friend and sometimes competitor, Jean-Michael Basquiat.

The final price also smashes the previous record for a 20th Century work of art, set in 2015 when a 1955 painting by Pablo Picasso - Les Femmes d'Alger (Version O) - sold for $179.4m, including fees.

In March, George Frei, the chairman of the board of the Thomas and Doris Amman Foundation, said in a statement that the painting of Monroe "bears witness to her undiminished visual power in the new millennium".

"Marilyn the woman is gone; the terrible circumstances of her life and death are forgotten," Mr Frei said. "All that remains is the enigmatic smile that links her to another mysterious smile of a distinguished lady, the Mona Lisa."

Bloomberg reports that the winning bidder was US art dealer Larry Gagosian, who owns a chain of art galleries.

According to Christie's, all the proceeds of the sale will go to the Switzerland-based Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation Zurich, which works to establish healthcare and education programmes for children around the world.

The auction on Monday is the first of a series of art auctions planned by Christie's and Sotheby's over the next two weeks, widely considered to be a test of the luxury art market's health in the post-pandemic era.

Philip Hoffman, the founder of New York-based advisory company the Fine Art Group, told the New York times that there is a "huge amount of pent-up demand" for art.

"Everybody was waiting for the right moment," he said. "And the right moment has come."