As the golden legend of tinseltown, Marilyn Monroe held particular fascination for Andy Warhol. Her suicide on August 5, 1962 struck a personal chord and precipitated a commemorative series that isolated her beautiful and henceforth elusive visage against variously colored backdrops. Created in the month after Monroe's death, Lemon Marilyn is one of the earliest of such manifestations; it is a poignant embodiment of the extinguished star. This exceptional work was selected for Warhol's first one-man exhibition at Eleanor Ward's Stable Gallery in New York.
As an integral part of this watershed event, Lemon Marilyn was prominently displayed in the hallway that connected the north and south galleries with seven other Marilyns of the same format. Classified as "the Marilyn flavors," these works were informally named after the color of their backgrounds and often with words that signify both a flavor as well as a hue. As a constellation, many of these works reverberated with the emerging populist aesthetic of Pop; however Lemon Marilyn stood apart. Compared to the graphic flatness of some her siblings, she portrayed an ineffable softness on account of her nuanced hues; indeed, the contrast of her mauve face with the specific choice of her pale yellow background created a three-dimensional image that sympathetically alluded to a real person behind her projected persona. Receding into ethereal space, Lemon Marilyn was an alluring woman, closer to a Byzantine icon of a bygone era than a contemporaneous Pop-star. Haunting and mysterious, she lingered just beyond human reach, embodying the projection of an impossible dream.
As a canonization of the actress, Lemon Marilyn is one of the most successful images from the series. Tapping into the collective consciousness at the particular moment when Monroe the star became Monroe the myth, this work completely embodies that transformation. The radiant and elusive protagonist of Lemon Marilyn assumes the appearance of a sacred icon; she is a martyr to her fame. Afloat in the gilded aura of her background, Lemon Marilyn shares affinities with the saints that decorated the walls of St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church in Pittsburgh, where Warhol had worshipped as a child.
Warhol achieved his desired aesthetic iconicity in Lemon Marilyn by employing the silkscreen and in fact, the Marilyns coincided with his first successful use of this industrial process. In the weeks prior to Monroe's death, Warhol had experimented with the silkscreen to stencil photo-derived images of Troy Donahue and Warren Beatty over hand-painted backgrounds. The ensuing superimpositions of inky screens on flat hues were electric and Warhol instantly recognized their iconic potential. For the Marilyns, Warhol had a 20 x 16 inch screen produced, based on a publicity photograph of the actress from the 20th Century Fox film Niagara. Cropping the bust-length image just below the chin, he sized the screen to an enlargement of this detail.
By utilizing the silkscreen, Warhol was taking his first steps in the Duchampian tradition of using a "ready made" image, in this case a photograph, as the basis for a work-of-art. However, Warhol's process for Lemon Marilyn was much more personal than the purely mechanical stance he would soon adopt for his work. As a first step, he hand-painted seven blocks of color to indicate the actress's hair, skin, eyes, eyelids, lips, collar and the space surrounding her head. The canvas's white priming provides the color for the teeth. Next, he pushed black pigment through the mesh of the screen, thereby printing the photographic portrait on top of this colored background scheme. The effect was one of unprecedented immediacy, and in the case of Lemon Marilyn, unrivaled beauty. She was instantly recognizable as the product of Warhol's genius in a manner that matched Jasper Johns' contemporaneous variations on the Flag, 1960.
As a work that incorporated the hand in its creation to a far greater extent than Warhol's subsequent work, Lemon Marilyn embraces the "imperfections" of its process and places major emphasis on the variations that it engenders. For instance, the registration of the screen is not properly aligned with the features on account of Warhol's tendency to make areas of color larger than the forms they were intended to describe; in addition, there is an intentional tentativeness to the registration of the hair that is most visible on the left. Especially noticeable is the border of the screen that leaves its mark the upper, lower and left edges of Lemon Marilyn. These attributes are unique to this work and testify to Warhol's involvement in its creation.
Such traits of individuality extend to Monroe herself. Compared to the perfectly coiffed media propagated publicity images of the actress, she appears touched by humanity in Lemon Marilyn; indeed, she appears as vulnerable and fragile as she was in life. She transcends reality to become a modern icon, both an every-woman and a goddess, a latter day Mona Lisa.
Synthetic polymer, silkscreen inks and acrylic on canvas
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION
Signed and dated 'Andy Warhol 62' (on the reverse)
New York, Stable Gallery, Andy Warhol, November 1962.
Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, Andy Warhol, October-November 1966, no. 7.
Pasadena Art Museum and Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Andy Warhol, May-September 1970.
New York, Museum of Modern Art; Chicago, The Art Institute; London, Hayward Gallery; Cologne, Museum Ludwig; Venice, Palazzo Grassi and Paris, Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Andy Warhol: A Retrospective, February 1989-September 1990, no. 211 (illustrated in color).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm.)
R. Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1970, no. 59.
R. Crone, Das Bildnerische Werk Andy Warhols, Berlin, 1976, no. 66. G. Frei and N. Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings and Sculpture 1961-1963, vol. 1, New York, 2002, pp. 229 and 232, no. 255 (illustrated in color).
D. Hickey et. al., Andy Warhol "Giant" Size, New York, 2006, p. 185 (illustrated in color).
Stable Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1962