Roy Lichtenstein - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 16, 2019 | Phillips

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    Roy Lichtenstein, 'Horse and Rider', Lot 7

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 16 May 2019

  • Provenance

    Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
    The Mayor Gallery, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    “All my art is, in some way, about other art.” –Roy Lichtenstein

    Creating a grand vista of fragmented geometric forms that coalesce into a dynamic equine tableau, Roy Lichtenstein’s engulfing Horse and Rider, 1976, exemplifies the painter’s enduring dedication to the appropriation of the art historical canon within his idiosyncratic Pop aesthetic. Adding to an oeuvre redolent with the influence of the 20th century’s most groundbreaking artistic movements, it was in 1974 that Lichtenstein began to pay homage to the pictorial strategies of Italian Futurism. Here, Lichtenstein draws from Umberto Boccioni’s exemplary 1914 painting Horse Rider and Buildings, reinterpreting its definitive pictorial strategies through the touchstones of his own visual vocabulary, rooted in comic book imagery and commercial printing. The Fitermans' acquisition of this important painting evinces the unique scholarly rigor that informed their approach to collecting, and their sustained efforts, as both admirers and patrons, to situate Lichtenstein’s work within the grand history of painting.

    Lichtenstein would only paint one other Futurist-inspired work on the subject of the horse, The Red Horseman, 1974, which resides in the collection of the Ludwig Forum for International Art, Aachen and is currently on loan to the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna. While The Red Horseman, which was widely disseminated as the poster image for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, provided a more faithful Pop Art equivalent of Carlo Carrà’s original painting with the same name, Lichtenstein takes more creative license, inventing a powerfully original composition in Horse and Rider. Succinctly manifesting an ambiguous position between homage and pastiche, the work embodies one of Pop Art’s most important underlying tenets. The result is an uncanny stylistic hybrid that makes an important addition to the longstanding genre of equestrian painting, as the employment of this historic motif allows for a unique dissection of the Futurist’s relentless quest for visual dynamism. As such, Horse and Rider is an indisputable masterpiece within Lichtenstein’s limited series of Futurist-inspired works.

    From the earliest days of his career, Lichtenstein consciously placed himself within the meta-narrative of art history by paying due homage to great modern masters who, like Lichtenstein himself, had introduced new stylistic idioms to the arena of painting. As early as 1962, in Man with Folded Arms, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Lichtenstein emulated Paul Cézanne’s renowned Homme aux bras croisés, 1899, reducing the image to a set of thick monochrome outlines against a fine screen of perfectly articulated Ben-Day dots. The following year he would quote Picasso in his Femme d’Alger, 1963, The Broad, Los Angeles. Given that Picasso himself appropriated the theme from Eugène Delacroix’s Women of Algiers in Their Apartment, 1834, Lichtenstein’s twofold mediation exposes the canon of painting as a game of influence and borrowing. All crafted in his comic book style, Lichtenstein’s particular vision of Pop Art involved illuminating the nuances of a visual culture in which popular art forms and “high art” were intrinsically linked. The artist surmised this in 1966: “I think even the cartoons themselves are influenced by Cubism, because the hard-edged character which is brought about by the printing creates a kind of cubist look that perhaps wasn't intended" (Roy Lichtenstein, quoted in David Sylvester, Some Kind of Reality: Roy Lichtenstein interviewed by David Sylvester in 1966 and 1997, London, 1997, p. 7).

    For Lichtenstein, Pop Art therefore did not simply bring commercial aesthetics into the gallery space; it also became an exploration of the semantic possibilities brought about by the melding of previously separate graphic and artistic styles. Though contemporary critics questioned the validity of a copied subject within Lichtenstein's early art history paintings, he would, over the course of the 1970s, abandon his attachment to specific works, using the movements of Cubism, Expressionism, Surrealism and Futurism as springboards for his own imaginative compositions. Within the Futurist-inspired works, Horse and Rider is a masterpiece that illustrates the calculated tension Lichtenstein built between innovation and appropriation. Here the cascading equestrian scene, where a rider appears to be fractured to a stilled vision that moves across the canvas, is unequivocally redolent of foremost Futurist painter Boccioni’s Horse Rider and Buildings of 1914. While the artist had initiated a relationship with the Futurists’ draw to horse imagery two years earlier in The Red Horseman, the present work displays his greater confidence with the theme as he diverts further from the source painting by Boccioni. Lichtenstein creates an entirely unique composition of his own, evocative of but not reliant upon the motif so revered by the Futurists for its display of speed. This transition towards pastiche rather than direct reference is reflective of the developments in his relationship to artistic styles and artworks as his career progressed.

    Inaugurating the polemical Futurist movement in 1909, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti declared on the front page of the French newspaper Le Figaro that “the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath...a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace” (Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, “Manifesto of Futurism,” Le Figaro, February 20, 1909).

    Horses were a compelling subject for Futurist painters in the early 1900s, as they stood on the precipice of an era in which technological advances would slowly render the animals obsolete within the fields of transport and agriculture. Considered as a symbol of strength, speed and grace, the horse has been one of the most enduring motifs in the history of painting. Some of the earliest known examples of painting were born out of a fascination with this powerful animal; for example, the wall paintings at the Chauvet Cave in France, estimated to have been created around 30,000 B.C. As the centuries progressed, man’s taming of the horse proved instrumental to the advancement of civilization and the eventual establishment of empires. Horses are a defining feature of the Parthenon frieze, while Equestrian statues from ancient Rome came to be mimicked throughout the Renaissance onwards as a metaphor for imperial power. By way of these precedents, the horse entered into the canon of Western art history as a recurring theme that would be interpreted anew with each stylistic movement. Having been one of the greatest tools for the advancement of humankind up until that point in history, for society to advance further into the utopian future than the movement envisioned, the horse had to be reconsidered within the framework of depiction and substituted for mechanical equivalents in real life.

    In his equestrian scenes, Boccioni would typically create an optically sensational network of frenetic brushwork that made a tactile appeal to emotions through an excess of color. In the catalogue for an important Futurist exhibition that Lichtenstein most likely would have attended at The Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1961, Joshua Taylor noted that "The Futurists were not only the first artists to take cognizance of the dynamism of a technological society, but they also produced works of art of extraordinary emotional impact" (Joshua Taylor, Futurism, New York, 1961, p. 7).

    Lichtenstein maintains this crucial potency and makes an ode to technology through alternative means. He harnesses the power of calculated composition, stacking and layering his planar geometric forms to create a development that appears to fracture the figure over time. Appearing like a set of images from a film reel, Lichtenstein recalls the photographic experiments into the nature of motion made by Eadweard Muybridge in the late 1800s. These provided a crucial catalyst of inspiration for Futurist painters as well as Marcel Duchamp in his seminal work Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, Philadelphia Museum of Art. By recalling photographic examinations of speed and finding a common influence of technology, Lichtenstein is able to recall Futurism's concerns while maintaining a stylistic application of paint that seems diametrically opposed to Boccioni’s maximalist color use. Lichtenstein explains of his reduced approach to color, “I use color in the same way as line. I want it oversimplified – anything that could be vaguely red becomes red" (Roy Lichtenstein, quoted in Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, Liverpool, 1993, p. 12).

    In Horse and Rider, Lichtenstein actively expunged the darker political beliefs of the Futurist movement, with its links to early 20th century Fascism, and reclaims the aesthetic for his own apolitical Pop utopianism. Privileging the contrast of pure colors, Lichtenstein also harnesses a sense of movement in the gradation of Ben-Day dots that punctuate the surface. Rather than trying to imitate a sense of naturalistic depth and motion, he creates cerebral depth through interactions between colors and the hazy mesh of successive planes. In Horse and Rider, Lichtenstein enacts a perfect marriage between pop and Futurism, as dynamic movement is expressed through his own aesthetic ends. As such, the present work is a paradigm of his infallible ability to distill the formal vocabulary of a movement while maintaining the individualistic viewpoint that has made him one of the 20th century's most influential painters.

Property from the Miles and Shirley Fiterman Collection


Horse and Rider

signed and dated "rf Lichtenstein '76" on the reverse
oil and Magna on canvas
54 x 74 in. (137.2 x 188 cm.)
Executed in 1976.

$6,000,000 - 8,000,000 

Sold for $5,955,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue