Robert Rauschenberg - 20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session New York Tuesday, December 8, 2020 | Phillips
  • An impressive embodiment of Robert Rauschenberg’s innovative transfer drawing process, Pewter Drawing from 1961 epitomizes the artist’s experimental approach to recreating the spectral haze and image oversaturation of television. Formerly in the collection of television executive, art collector, and founder of the Skylark Foundation Blake Byrne, the present work is a significant example of an early important innovation of Rauschenberg’s career that bridged the artist’s combines with his later work in collage. 


    Unpacking Pewter Drawer


    The enigmatically titled Pewter Drawer combines imagery mostly taken from the March 24, 1961 edition of Life, the primary visual record of its day. Combining competing but equally compelling stories to create an artwork that overflows with the intrigue and allure of a distinct point in time, Pewter Drawer casts images of a Campbell’s Soup can (a hidden tribute to Andy Warhol, as Gary Garrels has pointed out), an automobile, two sphinxes, as well as text in a translucent grey wash—perhaps the source of the titular label Pewter—as Rauschenberg alternately distorts, duplicates, and fragments his chosen imagery. The result is a work that confuses the content of its constituent sources and envelops the viewer in the television’s cold glow. 


    Pewter Drawer includes an image of an industrial sink and the word “PAINT,” which perhaps references to Rauschenberg’s studio; these elements are especially poignant considering that Rauschenberg often worked with his studio windows open and the television on in order to inundate himself with as many outside influences as possible while he worked, doubling down on the artist’s chosen muse and metaphor of mass entertainment.


    Rauschenberg's Transfer Technique


    Striving to translate the appropriative nature of his collages to the more intimate medium of drawing, Rauschenberg first attempted to manipulate imagery with a solvent-based transfer process in 1952. By 1958, he had fully developed the technique, which would later become the artist’s preferred process for the duration of the 1960s. By soaking found media in a solvent– often lighter fluid–laying the original image onto the drawing and etching across the surface of the work with a dry pen nib, Rauschenberg directly transferred found media onto the surface of the drawing. At the same time, in a delightful postmodern twist, the process obfuscated the replicated images by cloaking them in an artificial fog of texture. These works, which Rauschenberg’s friend and mentor John Cage likened to “many television sets working simultaneously all tuned differently,” mimic the ghastly black and white haze of the small screen and allowed the artist to play on the oversaturation of images of the early Information Age.


    The transfer drawings also acted as a significant conduit between Rauschenberg’s early Combines and his later collage paintings; these works enabled the artist to play on his own role as an image creator at a time when the Western world was mystified by a maelstrom of imagery. Pewter Drawer appropriates mass media imagery and showcases the artist’s involvement in the self-referential creation of the artwork by veiling the ubiquitous visual traces of the cacophony of mass media in the steely fog of the artist’s hand. 

    • Provenance

      Daniel B. Cordier, Paris
      Heinz Berggruen, Switzerland
      Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Kunsthalle Tübingen; Kunstmuseum Hannover, Robert Rauschenberg - Das zeichnerische Werk, May 5 - September 24, 1979, no. 51, p. 106 (illustrated)
      Berlin, Staatliche Kunsthalle; Kunsthalle Düsseldorf; Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Frankfurt, Städl; Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Rauschenberg: Werke 1950-1980, March 23, 1980 - April 5, 1981; then traveled as London, Tate Gallery, Robert Rauschenberg , April 29 - June 14, 1981
      New York, Acquavella Contemporary Art, Inc., Robert Rauschenberg Drawings, 1958-1968, October 24 - December 6, 1986, no. 47, n.p. (illustrated)
      New York, Acquavella Galleries, XIX & XX Century Master Drawings & Watercolors, April 26 - May 26, 1988, no. 26, p. 62 (illustrated, p. 63)

    • Literature

      Gary Garrels, ed., Discussions in Contemporary Culture, The Work of Andy Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 7

Property from the Collection of Blake Byrne, Los Angeles


Pewter Drawer

signed and dated "RAUSCHENBERG 1961" on the reverse
solvent transfer, pencil, wash and, gouache on paper
22 7/8 x 28 7/8 in. (58 x 73.6 cm)
Executed in 1961.

Full Cataloguing

$300,000 - 500,000 

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York 8 December 2020