"Double Elvis [Ferus Type]" by  Andy Warhol, one of 22 versions of the painting. Nine are in museums.

Story highlights

New: Lichtenstein's "Sleeping Girl" sells for $44.9 million

"Double Elvis" considered among the most famous of Warhol's paintings of celebrities

Price is short of the $50 million that Sotheby's had predicted it might fetch

Warhol, who died in 1987, made 22 versions of "Double Elvis" paintings

New York CNN  — 

The Andy Warhol classic painting “Double Elvis (Ferus Type)” sold Wednesday at Sotheby’s in New York for more than $37 million, the auction house said.

With commission, the sale price of $33 million totaled $37,042,500, short of the $50 million that Sotheby’s had predicted it might fetch. The piece (silkscreen ink and spray paint on canvas) shows Elvis Presley in a gunslinger pose.

First exhibited in 1963 at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, the work “epitomizes the artist’s obsessions with fame, stardom, and the public image,” Sotheby’s said in a release. “Warhol’s signature style, coupled with the instantly recognizable faces of his subjects, creates a blurred boundary between artist and sitter.”

Warhol made 22 versions of the “Double Elvis,” nine of which are held in museums.

The painting brings together two iconic figures in American culture, said Catharina Manchanda, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Seattle Art Museum, which has a “Double Elvis” on display.

“It’s Warhol at his very best. He gives you the celebrity playing a role within cinematic culture and asking us as viewer to confront that head-on,” Manchanda said. “It’s Elvis with the gun drawn. It’s a confrontational moment.”

The work is among the most famous of Warhol’s paintings of celebrities, which included Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.

Also Roy Lichtenstein’s “Sleeping Girl” was sold Wednesday for $44.9 million. That was an auction record for a Lichtenstein piece, Sotheby’s said.

Observers say the market for contemporary and modern art has been set ablaze in recent months.

A version of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” brought an auction record of $119 million at Sotheby’s on May 2, and a Mark Rothko painting “Orange, Red, Yellow” sold Tuesday at Christie’s for nearly $87 million.

Art dealers say the stratospheric rise in art prices is being propelled by wealthy investors from abroad. Wednesday night’s winning bid for the Warhol painting came in over the phone; the buyer’s name was not divulged.

Still, the buy set no records. The top price for a Warhol painting is $71,720,000.

As for Warhol, who famously said, “Making money is art and working is art, and good business is the best art,” the prices his works are commanding would have been thrilling, Manchanda said.

“He would be amazed and excited to see what’s happening,” she added.

Alas, Warhol died in 1987 after undergoing routine gallbladder surgery at what was then known as New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, three blocks south of Sotheby’s on New York’s Upper East Side. He was 58.