Roy Lichtenstein - Contemporary Art Part I New York Wednesday, May 11, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Leo Castelli Gallery (LC 643), New York; Sydney and Frances Lewis Foundation, Richmond; Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris; Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London; Private Collection; Sotheby’s, New York, Contemporary Art, Part I, May 14, 1998, lot 26; Private Collection; Christie’s, London, Post -War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale, June 20, 2007, lot 57; Private Collection

  • Exhibited

    New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein, February 24 - March 10, 1973; Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Twelve American Painters, 1974 (illustrated);
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, In This Academy, April 22 - December 31, 1976, no. 324; Allentown Art Museum, Artist’s Studio in American Painting, 1983-1984, no. 48 (illustrated); Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; London, Hayward Gallery; Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Roy Lichtenstein — All About Art, August 22, 2003 - February 22, 2005, no. 33 (illustrated in color)

  • Literature

    J. Cowart, Roy Lichtenstein 1970-1980, New York, 1981, p. 52 (illustrated); M. Holm, ed. Roy Lichtenstein: All About Art, Denmark, 2003, no. 33 (illustrated in color)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Roy saw through a glass lightly. He worked and played with this vision as his guiding light, an inner compass. He was “all of a piece”, and to see him in his natural habitat,
    the studio, or playpen, as he liked to call it, was to witness continuity/congruity/coherence. Inspiration was everywhere: the aforementioned coffee cup, the images of ideal blondes, fearless heroes, reddest apples were all grist for the mill. His view of a painting obscured by the play of reflections on its protective glass provided him with a wealth of ideas. Are we looking at the reflection of a window in a mirror or through the window itself? Is that a mirror of a painting or a painting of a mirror? Or as Roy might say, only marks on canvas, a group of artfully placed lines and shapes symbolizing mirrorness? Are we outside looking in, or inside looking out?

    (Dorothy Lichtenstein in “The Misanthrope Manque: Through a Glass Lightly in Roy Lichtenstein: Interiors”)

    Roy Lichtenstein’s singular contribution to the visual arts is incomparable. Boldly entering the art world in the early 1960s, Lichtenstein’s arresting images drew inspiration from all forms of mass produced printed materials. Rendering his subjects on the increased scale of painting altered the experience of the economical use of line and color that so defined inexpensive publishing. The visual impact of this shift combined with his radically reduced palette still reverberates today. His work is the definition of Pop and forcefully declared a new era in the history of art.

    Throughout the decade, Lichtenstein explored an array of compositions derived from newspapers, sale circulars and newsstand publications. He voraciously culled inspiration from the everyday imagery of the times and compiled his source material into composition books. From these sources, Lichtenstein produced interior scenes, portraits of consumer products, and filmic scenes transformed from the pages of comic books. Sardonically addressing the rampant consumerism and commercialization of the time, he was able to imbue his work with a deep pathos. He accentuates this banality, throwing it into sharp contrast with stark bold lines and a vibrant, primarycolored
    palette. Lichtenstein had the unique ability to take mechanized images and humanize them, creating domestic, emotional narratives.

    Having created some of the most unforgettable images of the latter half of the 20th century, by the middle of the 1960s he had achieved a facility and sophistication in working from the printed page, culminating in images of single female heads. At the same time, Lichtenstein began explorations of seascapes, landscapes and sunsets, looking for new inspiration after having exhausted some of the possibilities of his earlier subject matter. Lichtenstein continued to push his signature visual language of benday dots and primary “process colors” to produce his first brushstroke paintings. He also engaged in his first serious foray into three dimensional works, with a series
    of sculptures of stacked ceramic coffee cups and tea pots. Lichtenstein continued to expand his range of materials and visual effects with his Seascapes, Explosions and Modern Paintings. By the end of the decade he was engaged in a serious conversation with art history having produced his Haystacks and Rouen cathedrals based upon Monet’s renditions of the aforementioned subjects. Simultaneously, Lichtenstein began to more fully explore the artifice of perspective and the limits of flatness, with series of Stretcher Frames, Mirrors, Pyramids and Modular Paintings.

    By 1970 he was fully engaged in producing the illusion of a reflection with his Mirrors and with rendering the shallow depth of architectural facades with his Entabulatures. It was within this context that Lichtenstein would begin a series that would return his work to one of the most fundamental genres in the repertoire of Western image making: that of the Still Life.

    Still life with stretcher is a seminal work from this important period of Lichtenstein’s output. It incorporates many of his earlier works, much in the same way that old masters would include examples of their skill with genre painting within a single composition. His treatment of this subject fully demonstrates his expanding interest into a new realm which he would address for the next decade. Still life is essentially of formal concerns, primarily addressing color, line and shape. The artist, fully in command of
    every aspect of the composition, explores strategies to balance an economy of elements that still make a fully formed picture or scene.

    For Lichtenstein, these Still Lifes functioned as an extension of the multitiered formal dialogue that he had been engaging in with his artistic forebears. As he had with Picasso and Monet earlier, he now turned to the work of Dutch masters such as Abraham van Beryeren as well as Matisse’s well-know interiors. In addition to these European influences, he was also looking intensely at the work of his American antecedents, as he had in his earlier work of the 1940s and 1950s. Influenced by the still life masters such as Severin Roesen as well as trompe l’oeil painters William Michael Harnett and John Frederick Peto, Lichtenstein drew a great deal of inspiration from
    composing his scenes from a decidedly American perspective. The stylistic and palette variations of these divergent artists were filtered through Lichtenstein and stamped indelibly with his imprint. All were treated with his signature application of benday dots, primary colors and bold black line.

    A deceptively simple interior scene, the present lot is composed of a table on which a bowl of fruit, a coffee cup and the verso of a painting sit, construing a foreground. In the background of the image, is an oval mirror to the left on a light blue wall and bound on the upper right by yellow draping cloths. These elements seem mundane and nondescript, “rivaled banality” (D. Waldman “Roy Lichtenstein” Guggenheim Museum, 1993 p. 213). But they are a Lichtenstein Stretcher Frame Painting, a Lichtenstein Oval Mirror and a Lichtenstein Bowl of Fruit, as indicated in the title. They are actual works that Lichtenstein had previously painted, now taking part in an ensemble that itself would become a painting. The representation of these “things” are akin to platonic ideals of a mirror, a table, a curtain, a stretcher frame, a banana, grapefruit, apple, grape, cup and saucer. Reduced to elemental shape, three primary colors of the high modernism of Mondrian are exercised in support of a representational scene that is undermined by it’s own flatness.

    The schematic form of the composition is generated from the placement of the three largest elements. The expanse of a black parallelogram becomes a table, as an oval form with benday dots becomes a mirror and a yellow curtain delineates the flattened interior space. The angled edge of the table is the only hint of a vanishing point to pull the picture into illusionistic space, while the crisp horizontal of the far edges demarcate depth. An Oval Mirror hangs in a space of light blue that lends a reading of depth in the interior, but the gesture is incomplete with an undefined wall or floor to further anchor the image. The illusion collapses as three dimensionality is rendered utterly flat, subservient to the reality of paint on the picture plane. “In Lichtenstein’s version, any suggestion of volume is squeezed out of the painting, making
    every three-dimensional form look two-dimensional (D. Waldman “Roy Lichtenstein” Guggenheim Museum, 1993 p. 211).

    Light emanates from a source outside the left of the frame. Lichtenstein utilizes varying sizes of dots to allude to shadows, or a white rectangle to stand in for the reflection of the perfectly red apple to further enhance the illusion. The fruits and coffee suggest domesticity and abundance, but in the severe flatness of their representation, all allusion to fecundity is evaporated. A bunch of grapes abruptly abuts a Stretcher Frame painting, partially hidden by an implied sharp line that does and does not mark the edge of the object. Bananas and a grapefruit are painted together in the same shade of yellow, further throwing the simplicity of the compositional gestures into sharp focus. A hanging cloth, also yellow, offers a counter point to the curved lines of the bananas. The coffee cup in the foreground further illuminates the
    problem of dimensionality. The container appears as if it could never serve as a vessel. The inside of the cup is the outside and vice versa, a visual spark that may hold an insight into Lichtenstein’s interest in topsy-turvy world of particle physics.

    This sophisticated approach to genre painting would captivate Lichtenstein for the remainder of his career, as he would depict the interiors of studio later in the decade and then again in the 1990s. It is this paradox that is so beautifully explicated in Still life with stretcher. A flatness that is reaching for three dimensionality, but is stymied by it’s own status as a two dimensional image.

  • Artist Biography

    Roy Lichtenstein

    One of the most influential and innovative American artists of the post-war period, Roy Lichtenstein ushered in the prominence of Pop Art through his high-impact representations of consumer imagery, common entertainment, and the accoutrements of contemporary life rendered in the Ben-Day dots of contemporary comic strips. Central to Lichtenstein’s practice was parody, which enabled the artist to engage with often-disparaged commercial source imagery from an ironic distance as he considered the nature of the banal and probed the boundaries of what fine art could be.


    While Lichtenstein’s early Pop work cemented his status as one of the main figures of one of the most iconic and original movements of postmodernism, he continued to develop his practice over the course of the following decades until his death in 1997. Retaining his characteristic comic style and ironic distance, Lichtenstein engaged new and disparate influences from Abstract Expressionism to Chinese landscape painting to evolve the subject of his own work and consider the contradictions of representation, style, and substance. Lichtenstein is a central figure in the 20th century art historical canon and accordingly his work is represented in the collections of major museums worldwide, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate, London; and Centre Pompidou, Paris.

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Still life with Mirror

Oil and Magna on canvas.
96 1/2 x 54 in. (245.1 x 137.2 cm.)
Signed and dated “Roy Lichtenstein ‘72” on the reverse.

$6,000,000 - 8,000,000 

Sold for $6,578,500

Contemporary Art Part I

12 May 2011
New York