Roy Lichtenstein - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Thursday, March 30, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Everything is a brushstroke… That’s the idea. It gives me a certain freedom.” 
    — Roy Lichtenstein in BOMB Magazine, 1986

    ‘All that is Art’ in One Painting


    In rare combination of Roy Lichtenstein’s two most practiced subjects, Reflections on Brushstrokes encapsulates the American pop icon’s most refined craft and revolutionary concepts. Joining the canonical art historical discussion on image-making, this magnum opus firmly grounds itself within the twentieth century American zeitgeist. In balancing an inherently academic investigation with the artist’s distinctively light-hearted charm, the masterpiece mimics a grand drama. Intrigue sizzles as a reflective silver frame stages the pictorial plane. Resting on controlled industrial patterns, sinuous and colourful paint strokes serve as crescendos that demand the viewer’s attention to the artist’s lingering presence. Building suspense to the narrative, oblique stripes featuring Lichtenstein’s signature Ben-day dots interrupt the performance. Evoking the experience of observing an image under glass, the reflective nature of these bands generate an intentional trompe l’oeil, leaving the audience bedazzled.

    “I like the idea of the brushstroke on (printed canvas), and then with reflections it is even better. That’s why I like Reflections on Brushstrokes. It shows all of the paint and it has the glass in front, and the canvas and brushstrokes, so it encompasses all that is art – more or less.”
    — Roy Lichtenstein

    Indeed, multiple decades of tireless repetitions on brushstrokes and reflections have led to this exquisite moment. Reflections on Brushstrokes marks a monumental breakthrough in Lichtenstein’s oeuvre: no longer are advertising imageries of women or bold letters needed to recall post-war American sentiments. The artist has now masterfully channelled the spirit of pop art to painting’s purest languages, through primary colours and industrial patterns that resonate with mass culture. Simultaneously, in dissecting artistic components with surgical precision, Lichtenstein positions himself within the art historical canon, fine tuning Georges Seurat’s pointillism and drawing inspirations from Claude Monet’s reflective surfaces.

    Brushstrokes as Grand Gestures


    Brushstrokes as Grand Gestures


    A vanguard of American pop art, Roy Lichtenstein harnesses the quotidian imageries of cartoon and commercial printing patterns as homage to the heightened consumerism that defined twentieth-century United States. This commitment to social sentiments has been engrained in the artist’s oeuvre, through his signature Ben Day dots technique that the present work illustriously exemplifies. Named after its late nineteenth century illustrator Benjamin Day Jr., this printing technique aggregates evenly spaced dots—typically coloured blue, yellow, magenta, and black—to create patterns and shapes. Most commonly realised in comic books and newspapers, such pattern of humble associations evokes mass production and commerciality. Throughout his entire career, Lichtenstein has astutely incorporated this allegedly unsophisticated style to his artmaking, thoroughly embodying a twentieth century artist in subject and craft.



    Detail of the present lot


    Yet the artist’s true brilliance lies in his ability to integrate the most mundane methods into high art, through recreating Monet’s waterlilies and Picasso’s cubist muses. This particular study testifies to the artist’s illustrious contribution to the historical investigation on brushstrokes as a motif, one that has begun centuries prior and reached its peak in the 1950s with the most acclaimed art movement of post-war America, abstract expressionism.

    “Brushstrokes are almost a symbol of art. The Brushstrokes paintings also resembles Abstract Expressionism. Of course visible brushstrokes in a painting convey a sense of grand gesture; but in my hands, the brushstrokes become a depiction of a grand gesture.”
    — Roy Lichtenstein in A Review of My Work Since 1961, 1995

    While abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock elevate brushstrokes as subjects dominating the image, in Reflections on Brushstrokes, Lichtenstein revolutionises this concept: Suggestive of the artist’s intentionality, the monumental and staid brushstrokes challenge the spontaneity and gestural legacy of Pollock’s expressive marks. Though also protagonists of the canvas, the brushstrokes are voided of action and stripped to their purest forms—further questioning the visual syntax that grounded art since its genesis. To understand Reflections on Brushstrokes is to witness conceptual ingenuity transform into power imagery under the finest execution. In fact, so significant is the subject of brushstrokes to Lichtenstein that the artist repeatedly canonised it in every medium and scale for almost thirty years of his distinguished career.



    Hans Namuth, photograph of Jackson Pollock painting Autumn Rhythm; Number 30,  1950
    Image: © 1991 Hans Namuth Estate, Courtesy Center for Creative Photography


    Symphony of Perception

    It started when I tried to photograph a print by Robert Rauschenberg that was under glass. But the light from a window reflected on the surface of the glass and prevented me from taking a good picture. But it gave me the idea of photographing… works under glass, where the reflections would hide most of the work… It portrays a painting under glass. It is framed and the glass is preventing you from seeing the painting.”
    — Roy Lichtenstein on the origins of his reflection series


    In 1988, under fortuitous circumstances, Lichtenstein commences his inquiry into the constructs of seeing through reflections. His seminal contribution to art history is brilliantly indicative of his time: While Jan van Eyck played with illusions from mirrors as early as the fifteenth century and the expressionists observed reflections in water, Lichtenstein conceptualises seeing through modern photography. The culmination of this investigation, Reflections on Brushstrokes, is an embodiment of the artist’s present moment and an ode to artmaking from past to present.



    The present lot

    The reflective frame, in conjunction with the bands punctuating the canvas, disconnects the viewer from the image. Nevertheless, the brilliant brushwork ladened underneath inspires curiosity. In stimulating the natural phenomenon of reflection under glass, Lichtenstein achieves such complex emotions all through a series of coloured dots once disregarded by critics as kitsch.


    Reflection on Brushstrokes marks a brilliant graduation of Lichtenstein’s pop art vernacular into formalist concepts, all without forsaking his characteristically playful aesthetic – marking this canvas the acme of Lichtenstein’s exquisite craft. Homonymous Lichtenstein prints have found homes in major international museums from the Tate Gallery in London to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


    An insight into the production of 'Reflections on brushstroke' (1992), by artist Roy Lichtenstein.

    A print published by Tyler Graphics Limited. Edited and collated from Kenneth Tyler Collection archival footage by David Greenhalgh, Curatorial Assistant, National Gallery of Australia



    Collector’s Digest

    • Undoubtably among the defining artists of post-war American art, Roy Lichtenstein remains one of the most highly coveted names for collectors and museums worldwide. His paintings have fetched unprecedented prices of US$165,000,000 (almost HK$1,300,000) and his artworks deemed essential collection pieces for every prestigious institution—from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Tate Modern in London, Centre Pompidou in Paris, and National Art Museum of China in Beijing.

    • By 1990, the artist has already achieved considerable commercial and institutional success, with a retrospective in the Museum of Modern Art three years prior, in addition to countless global exhibitions and the completion of his world-renowned Times Square mural in New York City. Lichtenstein’s exploration on the brushstrokes has also matured from his initial venture twenty-five years ago. The twenty-six Reflection images—the artist’s most repeated motif in 1990—are regarded as some of his most sought after works. Other canvases in the series have generated ground-breaking prices of $21 million USD ($165 million HKD) and can be located in the San Francisco Modern Art, The Broad Museum in Los Angeles, and the Israel Museum, etc.

    • Amongst them, the present work uniquely addresses brushstrokes as its subject and is the first Lichtenstein brushstroke and reflection canvas to appear in auction in the past twenty years, dawning it a true collector’s gem in Lichtenstein’s masterful ascension as one of the trailblazers of twentieth century art.

    • Provenance

      Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
      Herland Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm
      Cindric Meyer Gallery, Florida
      Private Collection, United States (acquired from the above in 1998)
      Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2014)
      Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York
      Private Collection, Europe


Reflections on Brushstrokes

signed and dated 'R. Lichtenstein 90' on the reverse
oil and magna on canvas
148.3 x 222.4 cm. (58 3/8 x 87 1/2 in.)
Executed in 1990.

Full Cataloguing

HK$14,000,000 - 19,000,000 

Sold for HK$19,810,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 30 March 2023