The Warhol market has been quiet at the very top for several years with the most significant works selling privately but few high-value Warhol paintings coming to auction. Last year, a double Elvis painting and Warhol’s portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat both sold for prices around the $40-million mark.
That’s a lot of money, but Warhol’s auction record is $105 million set in 2013 for a Silver Car Crash, a price that came five years after the private sale of Eight Elvises for $100 million. That pattern may be playing out again. This morning, Christie’s announced it would offer Thomas and Doris Amman’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn in May with a $200-million estimate. The proceeds of the sale will be used to fund the “Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation Zurich … which is dedicated to improving the lives of children the world over by establishing support systems centered on providing healthcare and educational programs.”
This public sale comes five years after the rumored private sale of Orange Marilyn by Citadel’s Kenneth Griffin some time in the Fall of 2017. Josh Baer had announced the sale in his newsletter on Christmas Eve of that year. The selling price was said to be $250 million.
The large 40 x 40 inch Marilyns sit near the apex of Warhol’s body of work. Five works were made. An incident at Warhol's factory where four of the five works were shot with a pistol gave the works their title (though the Orange one shows no sign of damage or repair.) The works have had a sales history that informs the broader Contemporary art market. How this sale plays out has the potential to re-calibrate the very top of the art market once again.
The provenance for this work is enlightening. It was owned by Leon Kraushar, a legendary Pop art collector who died young but not before owning many of the most significant works by Warhol, Lichtenstein and others. The painting was also owned by S.I. Newhouse, Jr. before the Ammans acquired it.
This chain of custody is significant because Kraushar was better known for having owned the Orange Marilyn from this series. That work was auctioned in 1998 when S.I. Newhouse, Jr. bought it for $17 million which represented nearly four times the low estimate for the work.
Thomas and Doris Amman have been some of the most prescient and influential art dealers in the global art market. Their provenance adds value to the work, but the owners of the other four 40 x 40 Marilyns do, too. Stefan Edlis owned the Turquoise version, which he sold to Steven Cohen in 2007 for $80 million. The Orange work was sold to Griffin privately, as mentioned above. Peter Brant owns the Light Blue one.
That leaves the Shot Red Marilyn, which had an interesting career on the art market. It was sold in 1989 during the Japanese art boom to Masao Wanibuchi who paid $4.01 million. Five years later, Wanibuchi was forced to sell. The painting made a small loss when it went for $3.6 million. At the time, Doris Amman was quoted in the New York Times saying the resale was “the recognition we were waiting for.” By that she meant the price on the original sale was not far off the value. Four years after that, Newhouse paid four times more. The buyer was Philippe Niarchos.