Marilyn Monroe: Still Captivating 50 Years After Her Death

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe, whose relationship with the camera is legendary, their pairing indelible. One of the most photographed icons of the 20th century, images of Monroe both reveal her vulnerabilities and display with alluring sensuality the glamorous bombshell persona that defined her career. Monroe is said to have both understood perfectly how to manipulate the camera’s snap to her own advantage, and how to operate a camera herself. Today her soft gaze remains piercing, compelling, and always a little bit enigmatic.

Weegee’s lighthearted image of Marilyn last sold at
Swann in February 2012 for $12,000. 

Swann regularly offers iconic images of Marilyn Monroe as well as images less frequently seen. A suite of four distortions by the charming and gritty New York photographer Weegee emphasizes Monroe’s playful side. Here Monroe mugs for the camera, a celebrity caught in a lighthearted moment in the crowd.

This poignant image by Eve Arnold brought $5,520 in April 2012.
Another print will be offered in our October 4 sale.

Contrastingly, Eve Arnold’s photograph of Monroe on the set of “The Misfits” depicts a young woman lost in thought and standing alone against a stark, wide landscape. The image is personal, aching, and implicitly compares the starlet to the fierce, sweeping, bold American landscape.

Bert Stern’s Marilyn (Crucifix II) sold for $24,000 in 2009.

The most iconic (and the most frequently seen at auction) images of Monroe are those taken at Bert Stern’s session with the actress just six weeks before her death, in series later titled “The Last Sitting.”  Stern gave Monroe the contact sheets for the film he shot; she returned it with her own red grease pencil editing marks. Later Stern enlarged these images, creating mural-sized photographic prints of Monroe with a crucifix-like red cross over her body. They are beautiful and haunting, reminding the viewer of Monroe’s own insecurities and her unforgettable beauty.

In Swann’s upcoming auction of Photographs, we will offer a different mural-sized image of Monroe, by Edward Clark. This time she is carefully coiffed, posing in the manicured style of Grace Kelly. It’s Marilyn before she was Marilyn, stunningly set against a dramatic black background. The least expected of the images we know of her, it adds another side to the prism that is the Marilyn Monroe we still adore and admire.