Andy Warhol became one of the best-known Pop artists ever. He created works by using imagery that was already recognizable to the public. One of the most renowned figures seen in many of his artworks is Marilyn Monroe. Her face appears in a multitude of Warhol’s silkscreen prints which were all completed after the actress’s death. Even though Warhol was one of the first artists to use Monroe’s face posthumously, her image is still often used in media.
Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe
When people think of Pop Art, Andy Warhol’s work often comes to mind. His bright and colorful prints are recognized worldwide. Pop Art evolved alongside new technology that was being used in advertising. During the mid-twentieth century, the world of media was increasingly developing and Warhol’s work reflected that.
He used images of objects and celebrities that people saw on television, in magazines, and in newspapers. This way his art was already familiar to a wide range of viewers. The subject matter seen in his work has become iconic and embedded into twentieth-century culture. By turning these things or people into art, Warhol immortalized them, giving them a place in the history of art.
In the early 1960s, Warhol started creating portraits using photographic silk screen printing. Beforehand, printmaking was mainly used in advertising. Warhol managed to find great success using this technique, with some of his most popular pieces being created through this method.
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He completed his first artwork using Marilyn’s image merely weeks after her death. By using a photo from Monroe’s 1953 film Niagara, Warhol made the Marilyn Diptych (1962). After the success of this first piece, he continued to use the same source for all of his Monroe prints. By constantly using the same composition, this image of Monroe’s face became recognizable all over the world. It may have even helped Monroe remain popular even after her death.
Marilyn Diptych includes two canvases, one was done in color and the other one in black and white. Warhol used silkscreen ink as well as acrylic paint on both of these canvases. Overall, the piece shows fifty Marilyns in a grid pattern. Additionally, some lines of the prints on the monochrome side are faded and not as defined, whereas all the prints on the colored side of the canvas have sharp outlines. This could reflect how Monroe’s life in the public eye contrasted with her private self. The juxtaposing nature of this artwork may also be a reference to the fact that Marilyn Monroe was actually born Norma Jean and was a natural brunette. Her blonde sex symbol image was constructed by Hollywood and the media.
The repetition of the image could also coincide with the idea of billboard posters and film strips mirroring the actress’s career. Throughout her lifetime Monroe’s face was frequently reproduced in newspapers, magazines, and on-screen. However, images of Monroe that were published while she was still alive would have, or should have, received her consent before being made public. Warhol used Monroe’s face after her tragic death which puts into question whether the artist objectified her. It can also be suggested that Warhol used Monroe’s image to highlight how society used her for the way she looked and no one actually knew who she really was. The canvas that shows the black and white prints of the actress’s face could be interpreted to reflect this as well as Monroe’s untimely death.
Warhol’s success led to him establishing his own print-publishing business called Factory Additions in 1967. This is where he continued to produce screen print portraits with signature subjects. Marilyn Monroe (1967) is one of ten silkscreen prints that are displayed together in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Each image has the exact same composition, like Marilyn Diptych, but features a different assortment of colors. Out of the ten prints on display at MoMA, only one is in shadowed tones, creating a darker, somber atmosphere. The bright colors used in the other nine prints contrast the darker print that could represent Monroe’s suicide.
Marilyn in Contemporary Media: Did Andy Warhol Help?
The image that Warhol created became emblematic. However, using Marilyn’s face in his work without her consent has led to controversy surrounding the objectification of the actress. It also made other artists and people who work in advertising feel like they could use Monroe’s image in their works as well. Even in the 21st century, Monroe’s face is still being used in media campaigns. There have been so many companies that have used her image that in 2013 The New York Times journalist, Andrew Adam Newman wrote an article about it titled Marilyn Monroe’s Star Still Shines in Ad Campaigns. Newman wrote about the many brands that have used Monroe in their advertainments and highlighted the question of whether it was appropriate to do so.
One of the brands that used Marilyn’s image was SexyHair. They also featured her quotes, like If I’d observed all the rules, I’d never have got anywhere. Due to her familiarity, the power that Monroe’s image has in pop culture hasn’t decreased over the years. She has always been, and will most likely continue to be, used as a marketing tool.
But, does this reduce her existence to only being an object that can be used to promote products? SexyHair’s campaign used multiple images of Monroe and a handful of quotations, however, we know for a fact that she never used their products because SexyHair debuted in 1998, thirty-six years after Monroe’s death.
This differs from the 2013 ad created by Chanel that claimed Monroe used their famous No.5 perfume. Chanel’s video ad uses recordings of Marilyn Monroe’s interview with George Belmont who was editor-in-chief of Marie Claire in the 1960s. In the interview, Monroe is heard saying that she only wears the Chanel perfume to bed. There are even photos which were taken by Ed Feingersh of the actress holding the perfume bottle. The entire marketing campaign that debuted in the autumn of 2013 was focused on the brand’s personal relationship with the actress. Despite the fact that there is evidence that she indeed used their product it can still be debated whether it is appropriate to use her face and her voice without consent.
However, Monroe never gave permission for her face to be used by these companies. This posthumous objectification might have started with Warhol’s artworks featuring the dead actress. British poet Carol Ann Duffy wrote the poem Beautiful addressing how women in history were often depersonalized due to their beauty. Duffy’s opinions on Monroe support the idea that she was viewed by the public as a material good and not a person. Duffy wrote: she couldn’t die when she died.
Similar to Warhol’s artwork, the poem uses repetition to show how the actress was overworked by Hollywood: they filmed her harder, harder till her hair was platinum. Even during her lifetime, Monroe was used by others in order for them to make money. The last stanza about Monroe suggests that she is now finally at peace, not being used by the media industry anymore. However, this is not entirely the case if we think of the ways in which the actress’s persona is constantly being used in pop culture.
The immortalization of Monroe within pop culture could be the result of numerous factors. Monroe’s notoriety during her lifetime and the persona that Hollywood made allowed the media to objectify her. This could be the reason why Andy Warhol felt like he could use her image in his work without any trouble. Even today, Warhol’s prints of Monroe are still popular on a global scale. In turn, this has immortalized the image of the actress and given her face a place within the world of art history without her knowledge.