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One of Andy Warhol's most famous paintings is going up for auction


One of the world's most famous artworks is going up for auction. It is a neon-colored portrait of Marilyn Monroe by the pop artist Andy Warhol.

ALEX ROTTER: I use this test when we speak about paintings. Would a New York cab driver recognize this painting? And I think there are only two. I think there's Marilyn and there's Mona Lisa that everyone would hit. That's it.


That's Alex Rotter, chairman of 20th and 21st Century Art at Christie's auction house.

ROTTER: You see her blonde hair, which Warhol turns yellow, and you see her very famous lips.


MARTÍNEZ: Out of dozens of Marilyn images that Warhol created after her death in the 1960s, this is one of five based on a publicity still from the movie Niagara.


MARILYN MONROE: (As Rose Loomis) Sure. I'm meeting somebody, just anybody handy as long as he's a man.

ROTTER: So when you - once you see the image, you will recognize that you're actually much more familiar with Warhol's vision of Marilyn than with the old movie shots from Marilyn herself.

INSKEEP: That's true. I didn't know where that image was from. Now, about four years ago, one of Warhol's Marilyns sold privately for more than $200 million. Bids for this sage blue silkscreen are expected to go at least that high and set an auction house record.

ROTTER: Warhol was, in my opinion, about 50 years ahead of his time in the concept of how people will understand art. And Marilyn is such a beautiful example. It's wherever you are, whoever you are, you engage in the beauty of Marilyn and the tragedy that surrounded her. And that shows how Warhol was ahead of his time in popular culture.

MARTÍNEZ: Warhol's "Blue Marilyn" was owned by a Swiss art dealer before his death. The Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation says proceeds from the auction in May will go toward health and education programs for kids.


MONROE: (Singing) I wanna be loved by you, just you, nobody else but you... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.