Richard Avedon (American, 1923–2004)
Gelatin silver print
image 22 1/4 x 23 1/4 in. (56.5 x 59.1 cm), frame 23 1/2 x 24 3/8 in. (59.7 x 61.9 cm)
Gift of the artist, 2002 (2002.379.11)
© Richard Avedon
In Marilyn Monroe, Avedon found a virtuoso of theatrical self-impersonation and with her pursued the mysterious point of convergence between actor and character, between the private self and the public role. "There was no such person as Marilyn Monroe," he explained in an interview with the filmmaker Helen Whitney. "Marilyn Monroe was someone Marilyn Monroe invented, like an author creates a character." Recalling the portrait session that took place in his studio on a May evening in 1957, he continued: "For hours she danced and sang and flirted and did this thing that's—she did Marilyn Monroe. And then there was the inevitable drop. And when the night was over and the white wine was over and the dancing was over, she sat in the corner like a child, with everything gone. I saw her sitting quietly without expression on her face, and I walked towards her but I wouldn't photograph her without her knowledge of it. And as I came with the camera, I saw that she was not saying no."
This famous image is part of the artist's gift to the Museum of 128 photographs featured in his landmark exhibition of portrait work held at Marlborough Gallery in New York in 1975. Including such luminaries as Igor Stravinsky, Ezra Pound, Isak Dinesen, Jean Genet, and Buckminster Fuller, this collection constitutes a modern-day pantheon of the key intellectual, artistic, and political figures of the late 1950s through the early 1970s.