It's not sexy. Not nude. Not glamorous, flirtatious, outrageous, audacious, or playful.
It's just sad. Lovely and sad.
Richard Avedon's indelible portrait of an actress whose public persona has slipped in a weary moment provides a glimpse of what it cost Marilyn Monroe to be Marilyn Monroe. The pretty shoulders are slumped, yet still tense. The light and the energy have gone out of her. She stares at something invisible and inevitable in the middle distance. She seems both resigned and apprehensive, as if she sees her own future.
The heartbreaking photo, "Marilyn Monroe, May 6, 1957" sold in a Sotheby's auction in New York this week for $457,000, far above the pre-auction estimate of $70,000. It was taken at the end of a long shoot in which the actress smiled, flirted and posed in her usual sex-kitten persona (although the shots, some of which are seen in this montage, have a whiff of desperation about them.)
Then Avedon pointed the camera at her one last time. Maybe she was just tired. But because we know the tragedy to come, the portrait takes on power. It remains one of the most famous Hollywood portraits of all time.