Roy Lichtenstein - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | Phillips

    Among Roy Lichtenstein’s final paintings, Nude encapsulates the artist’s reflections on both his career and modernism as a whole—on his own terms and through his own approach. An image of radiant beauty and unadulterated allure, Lichtenstein’s bombshell seduces the viewer with a soft smile and brilliant red lips, inviting our gaze with averted eyes. Executed in 1997, the year of Lichtenstein’s death, this superb example from his last major body of work (1993-1997) sustained his career-long preoccupation with cultural clichés: once again seizing the cartoon imagery that featured in his earlier work, he deviated from his original source material only by visualizing them without their clothes. Their metamorphosis into another stock image of femininity perpetuated by printed media—that of the erotic, domestic blonde—veiled by his arresting Ben-Day dots, his stock-in-trade, reflects his ever-evolving dialogue with pop culture and the art historical canon.


    Roy Lichtenstein in his studio in Southampton, New York, 1997. Image: © Bob Adelman Estate, Artwork: © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein 


    The first body of work executed after his monumental retrospective in 1993 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, the Nudes were Lichtenstein’s last contributions to art history and many are now held in important institutional collections, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and The Broad, Los Angeles.


    Lichtenstein’s Nudes


    Lichtenstein’s nudes were birthed from his concurrent Interiors series, caricatures of pristine Architectural Digest-esque representations of post-war bourgeois domesticity. First contained within decorative paintings on the walls, his nudes soon began to inhabit these homes themselves, their picture-perfect physiques as satirically commodified as the lavish furnishings which surrounded them. Nude is the culmination of this progression: the primary subject of the painting, Lichtenstein’s figure stands next to a plinth or table in a bare room only schematically rendered.


    Pamela Anderson as C.J. Parker in “Baywatch”. Image: Collection Christophel / Alamy Stock Photo


    The artist considered these late Nudes to be a marked distinction from his iconic representations of sentimental comic book romances, which he characterized as “perfectly pure” and “ended in a nice kiss.”i Though these figures encapsulate the same eroticism as his earlier work, “the 1990s nudes take pleasure in their own company without the slightest hint of needing or missing a man. They are not paralyzed by their emotions,” Avis Berman observed. “In contrast to Lichtenstein's original romance-comic pictures, this world flourishes exuberantly without men or engagement rings or kisses.” Indeed, perhaps reflective of wider social changes in the second half of the 20th century, Nude’s sexuality is presented in new terms; within a 1990s context, the figure is perhaps evocative of Pamela Anderson’s status as the ultimate American sex symbol during the contemporaneous run of Baywatch. “The older norm didn't disappear, but needed to be adjusted,” Berman continued. “Even as he updated the stereotypes of erotic fantasies, Lichtenstein wove them into the consistent narrative of his own carrier."ii 

    "Why bother doing nudes, you might ask? I get a kick out of the fact that the nude is so insistent."
    —Roy Lichtenstein
    Following in the footsteps of many of his forebears, including Henri Matisse, Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, and Pablo Picasso, Lichtenstein rendered the classic theme of the nude—likely the canon’s most persistent trope—in his distinctive aesthetic idiom late in life, often as a means of indexing art history itself. “The king of the blown-up comic-book frame had seemed to be settled into a quiet, Old Masterly period of late—but he’s broken out with a bang with his new series of nudes,” the New York Daily News declared when the artist returned to the motif in 1993.iii On one hand, the subject bears an immediate resemblance to Picasso’s volumetric Standing Nudes from the 1920s. On the other, the preliminary tracing paper study for Lichtenstein’s Nude depicts the figure gripping a flowing piece of fabric, betraying that the likely original inspiration for the picture was among the first life-sized representations of the female nude in Western art history: the Ancient Greek sculpture Aphrodite of Knidos, executed by Praxiteles circa 4th century BC. Indeed, Lichtenstein’s 1997 canvases are replete with references to antiquity; ironically, it was in the final paintings of his lifetime that he returned to the very first images of Western art history. 


    Roy Lichtenstein, Nude (Study), 1997. Artwork: © The Estate of Roy Lichtenstein


    Art History’s Favorite Subject

    "The later women paintings and nudes that Roy did are just absolutely gorgeous…in terms of beauty and engaging imagery—interesting, viral imagery—the women are fantastic."
    —Jeff Koons 

  • Painting about Painting


    Despite the classical richness of the subject matter, it is her translation into Lichtenstein’s signature vernacular that distinguish Nude as a meditation on the act of painting. As a critic illuminated, “Lichtenstein’s work… is not so much about the subject matter as about what his treatment—outlines, unmodulated color, Ben-day dots—does to the subject.”iv After a career critically interrogating the potentialities of a post-war machine aesthetic, Lichtenstein ironically employs the language of mechanism in Nude as a means of reflecting on the act of painting. 


    His signature Ben-Day dots suggest contouring, and the diagonal lines in the lower right of the picture establish the illusion of depth that defines the space in which the woman stands. Though these motifs allude to the building blocks of draughtsmanship and rudimentary chiaroscuro, they figure more as a two-dimensional decorative patterning, emphasizing the flatness of the picture plane. “My nudes are part light and shade, and so are the backgrounds, with dots to indicate the shade,” Lichtenstein elucidated. “The dots are also graduated from large to small, which usually suggests modeling in people’s minds, but that’s not what you get with these figures.”v Redolent of the printing process, these dots and diagonal lines are mechanical marks that are typically intended to go unnoticed, but in Nude they emphatically convey a complete deconstruction of space. The dots that fill the left side of the figure bleed into the plinth and wall beside her, collapsing the illusion of depth; a white stripe (and the small area of the figure’s hair that it intersects) disrupts any coherency, reminiscent of a glitch or printing error. 




    “As these dots, following their own formal and psychic logic, spread beyond the body,” Harry Coplans remarked, “they escape narrative and depiction to become identified instead with the surface of the painting, the plane where the subject and object, artist/beholder and model, would meet.”vi In a sense, these inconsistencies shift the subject of Nude from the central figure to the act of depiction itself. It is possible to read the illusionistic “errors” in reference to the unparalleled and evocative power of painting, which always remained his primary métier despite his various experiments with other media, such as sculpture and printmaking. Indeed, his figure’s signature blonde hair is rendered here in the palest of blues, reminding the viewer that she is not “real,” but of the artist’s own invention. In response to an increasingly mechanized world, Nude seems to express the controlled palette and representational limits of printed and computer-generated imagery in Lichtenstein’s final homage to his greatest love: painting.


    A Post-Modern Reflection

    "He deduced and acknowledged the nude as a form through which a new syntax could emerge by means of an understated narrative that implies a relationship between the artist-creator and the nude."
    —Sheena Wagstaff 
    Underscoring the conceptual post-modern rigor that has always defined his approach, his choice of the nude as his final major subject—a motif as prevalent in art history as his previous comic book subjects were in pop culture imagery—saw his career come full-circle. After four decades of radically probing fundamental questions of art and artmaking, it was apt for him to select this as a symbol of returning to the beginning of both his oeuvre and art history.


    Roy Lichtenstein, Woman: Sunlight, 1996. The Broad, Los Angeles. Artwork: © The Estate of Roy Lichtenstein 

    In typical Lichtenstein fashion, the subject has no reference to reality except that of an artist-represented reality—and it is relationship, between model and creator, that so preoccupied the artist in the final year of his life. “It is the discovery and convulsive act of formal genesis—and Lichtenstein’s symbolic transfiguration of pictorial skin and gristle—that signals its real pictorial metamorphosis, and thus become the means of simultaneously overcoming yet emphasizing its narrative associations,” Wagstaff expounded. “Lichtenstein’s Nudes, created in the last four years of his life, are a profoundly innovative and active meditation upon the relationship of creation and perception.”vii


    i Christine Temin, “West meets East with a Pop,” The Boston Globe, March 21, 1997, p. C12.
    ii Avis Berman, Roy Lichtenstein: Classic of the New, exh. cat., Kunsthaus Bregenz, Vienna, 2005, p. 143.
    iii Stuart Klawans, “Museums,” New York Daily News, December 3, 1994, p. 24.
    iv Marina Isola, “Going Dotty over Roy Lichtenstein,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 28, 1995, p. 141.
    v Roy Lichtenstein, quoted in Michael Kimmelmann, Portraits: Talking with Artists at the Met, the Modern, the Louvre, and Elsewhere, New York, 1998, p. 89.
    vi Harry Cooper, “On the Dot,” in Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago, 2012, p. 33.
    vii Sheena Wagstaff, “Late Nudes,” in ibid., pp. 103-104.

    • Provenance

      Estate of the Artist
      Castelli Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2015

    • Exhibited

      Madrid, Fundación Juan March (no. 97, illustrated, pp. 112, 152), Roy Lichtenstein: Beginning to End; then travelled as Pinacothèque de Paris (no. 97, p. 152, illustrated, p. 112), Roy Lichtenstein: Évolution, February 2–September 23, 2007
      New York, Gagosian Gallery, Go Figure, May 9–August 21, 2009, pp. 48, 56 (illustrated, p. 49; installation view illustrated, p. 66)

    • Literature

      "The Lichtenstein Catalogue Raisonné Project," IFAR Journal, Vol. 8, Nos. 3 & 4, 2006, fig. 2, p. 92 (illustrated)
      Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2012, fig. 18, p. 103 (illustrated)

Property from an Esteemed Private Collection



oil and Magna on canvas
82 1/2 x 45 in. (209.6 x 114.3 cm)
Painted in 1997, this work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.

Full Cataloguing

$8,000,000 - 12,000,000 

Sold for $10,267,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2022