The latest depiction of Marilyn Monroe hits Netflix next week. Blonde, described as ‘a historical psychological drama’, is a fictionalised account of the starlet’s life and is adapted from the 2000 novel of the same name by American author and poet, Joyce Carol Oates.
With the exception of the Queen, no woman’s image has been reproduced as widely as Monroe’s. Once labelled the archetypal sex symbol of the 50s and 60s, the highs and lows of Monroe’s life have been portrayed time and again.
While most define the actress by the films (and romances) that made her a household name, few know that she also fought hard to command agency over her own image, and to gain autonomy and creative control in the film industry.
While, Monroe sadly didn’t live to see the effects of her bravery, her impact on popular culture endures to this day, and her image has influenced art by everyone from Banksy to The Connor Brothers – something that would no doubt make her happy given her studies of art history and her own drawing talents.
To celebrate Monroe’s status as a cultural legend, today we’re taking a look at some of the most iconic artworks to feature the star.
Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe Series
Let’s start with the obvious…Andy Warhol’s depictions of Monroe, which he began producing in 1967, just a few years after her death in 1962.
Through his depictions of female stars, which also included Debbie Harry and Liza Minnelli, Warhol explored the relationship between consumer society and fame, sensationalism and death. His distinctive work is widely-considered to represent a society in which famous people are seen as products, rather than human beings.
Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) 1967
Warhol's first works to feature Marilyn were a screenprinted series of 10, taking a press shot from Monroe's 1953 film, Niagara - the noir thriller that cemented her status as a Hollywood superstar - and reproducing it in his signature style of different colour combinations.
Next came Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych, an image featuring 50 images of the actress, half in colour and half in black and white. In a nod to how Monroe was idolised, Warhol adopted this half-and-half style to emulate Christian artworks depicting the Virgin Mary on one half, and a crucified Jesus on another.
While all of his artworks of Monroe were received well, it was Shot Sage Blue Marilyn that made history in 2022 after it became the most expensive piece of 20th century art sold. The piece took $195 million at auction in New York in under four minutes, with the bidding starting at $100 million.
Sir Peter Blake
As the Godfather of Pop Art, Sir Peter Blake’s art reflects his decades-long love affair with popular culture and the superstars that have defined it.
Speaking of what drew him to portraying Monroe, Blake has stated: “Marilyn Monroe is an icon for me. Certainly, if you’re going to choose a classic blonde pin-up, it’s got to be Marilyn.”
Edwards’ instantly-recognisable style involves crafting portraits from the lyrics and quotes of those he’s depicting. In his artwork of Monroe, Edwards employs some of her most infamous utterings and musings on fame, including: "I don't want to make money. I just want to be wonderful."
Pioneering 20th century female photojournalist, Eve Arnold, is known for her breathtaking collection of photographs of Monroe. As a close friend of the actress, Arnold was able to capture the star at her most relaxed, resulting in a gentle and intimate series of photographs that showed a different side to the sex symbol.
Marilyn Monroe in her car in Nevada studying lines for The Misfits, 1960. Photograph: Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos
Arnold's images of Monroe show two sides to the actress; the side of her that is extraordinarily beautiful and instantly-recognisable, but also a normal woman who, like everyone, is also vulnerable.
Monroe in the Nevada desert during filming of ‘The Misfits’ 1960. Photograph: Eve Arnold/ Magnum Photos
Speaking of photographing Monroe, the late photographer stated: "I found myself in the privileged position of photographing somebody who at first I thought has a gift for the camera, but who turned out to have a genius for it."
Ochs is an American archivist whose vast photographic collection contained more than three million vintage prints, proof sheets and negatives capturing stars of stage and screen.
While Ochs is best known as ‘America’s preeminent rock and roll archivist’, given he was active in the 50s and 60s, it’s no surprise he also captured Monroe at the height of her fame.
As well as capturing Monroe looking characteristically glamorous, Ochs also captured a more vulnerable side to the star – photographing her reading. One of her favourite pastimes, Monroe’s library is said to have contained more than 400 books.
Street artist Pure Evil is another artist who has employed Monroe’s image to convey his artistic message.
In his lauded Nightmare series Pure Evil depicts doomed celebrities including Sharon Tate, Elizabeth Taylor and of course, Monroe, with his signature teardrop, said to be an "illustration of the heartbreak and sadness we've all experienced in relationships in the past."
Another photographer lucky enough to capture Monroe was Slim Aarons – a photographer of the who’s who of American high society, who over the course of his impressive career captured the likes of Humphrey Bogart, The Kennedy Family and Marilyn Monroe.
Despite every Aarons’ photograph looking like a carefully-staged magazine shoot, what makes his work so special is that he’s capturing his subjects in their own clothes and in their own homes, giving each snap a wonderful air of authenticity.
Aarons’ depiction of Monroe captures her looking ever the sex symbol in her dressing room. The actress is surrounded by hundreds of fan mail letters, showing the impact she had on the hearts and minds of the world.