Roy Lichtenstein - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 17, 2023 | Phillips

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  • “With his genius for steering the history of high art into the lowest depths of popular art and then triumphing over the collision, [Lichtenstein was] destined to take on one of the loftiest motifs of Western painting, the mirror.”
    —Robert Rosenblum

    With its opaque white surface of red and blue dots, meticulously rendered by hand and clustered into carefully aligned sequences of varying thicknesses, Mirror #7, 1971, both evokes and obfuscates our notions of the form and function of the mirror. In his seminal series of mirror paintings, executed between 1969 and 1972, Roy Lichtenstein sought to create works that could be “moved as far as possible from realism…as stylized as you can get it.”i In the process, he found a complex formal and symbolic reflection of his own art practice, keyed to the minimalist language of post-Pop American art.


    Parmigianino, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, 1524. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Image: Heritage Images / Fine Art Images / akg-images 

    The mirror, as an art historical symbol, enjoys a richness of meanings, representing vanity, beauty, the transience of life, and the fickleness of reality. The mirror itself, too, is a potent symbol of painterly skill. Historically, commercial artists would subtly advertise their talents in realist representation by painting complex mirrors or glassware into their work; a self-portrait with a mirror was their most effective business card. Lichtenstein, too, draws on more commercial meanings of mirrors with Mirror #7. He found his inspiration for the present series in brochures found in the window displays of glass stores on the Bowery on New York’s Lower East Side. He was fascinated by these depictions of mirrors as “air-brushed mirror symbols, reflecting nothing.”ii


    Lichtenstein’s perennial muse, cartoon art, provided further inspiration for Mirror #7. As with the advertising brochures found on the Bowery, cartoonists had their own, not-quite-realistic way of drawing mirrors. Lichtenstein explained: "There's no simple way to draw a mirror, so cartoonists invented dashed or diagonal lines to signify mirror. Now, you see those lines and you know it means mirror, even though there are obviously no such lines in reality. If you put horizontal, instead of diagonal, lines across the same object, it wouldn't say 'mirror'."iii


    Agnes Martin, Untitled, c. 1960. Private Collection. Artwork: © 2023 Agnes Martin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 


    Mirror #7 thus signifies a mirror in Lichtenstein’s artistic language, rendered in Ben-Day dots with a diagonal line across the surface. However, Lichtenstein, following the example of his European predecessors, uses this sign as a symbol of his virtuosity: namely, his mastery of Ben-Day dots. These dots, first used in commercial printing settings by cartoonists, have become the hallmark of Lichtenstein’s oeuvre, with Mirror #7 demonstrating his mastery of their application since first deploying Ben-Day dots a decade prior.


    Deceptively simple, the surface of Mirror #7 unfolds with greater detail the longer one observes it, just as the gazer is further revealed to oneself in a real mirror. Lichtenstein cleverly juxtaposes red and blue dots to separate his mirror from its thin, rounded frame. The thickness of the dots, too, adds to the illusion: carefully thinned areas of blue dots create that hallowed diagonal, from lower left to upper right. A solid blue line, circling from top to bottom, rounds out the composition, suggesting further depth of field on the flat surface. The result is a deception of simple dots and lines choreographed to yield an astonishing trompe l'oeil: a mirror with no reflection.


    Robert Morris, Untitled, 1965 (reconstructed 1971). Tate Modern, London. Image: © Tate, London / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2023 Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Rights Administered by Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York, All Rights Reserved

    Mirror #7 engages the quintessential Modernist question of the value of representational art, posed in the context of Lichtenstein’s seminal themes of 20th century American consumerism and mediated representations of the self. That Lichtenstein does this through a classic tondo, or round, canvas in the style of Renaissance masters adds yet another historical layer to this complex work. Mirror #7, and its eponymous series at large, also mark Lichtenstein’s place in an international art movement beyond his Pop Art beginnings. The surface of Mirror #7, “as stylized as you can get it,” is also as abstract as a mirror can get.iv The affective simplicity of Mirror #7, restrained in comparison to Lichtenstein’s earlier Pop compositions, places the work in the aesthetic context of minimalist artists like Robert Morris, and maximalists like Yayoi Kusama (particularly, her Narcissus Garden of 1968), who used mirrored surfaces to provoke contemplation. Altogether, Mirror #7 encapsulates Lichtenstein's greatest stylistic and conceptual achievements, showcasing his mastery of form and engaging with the pertinent art historical questions of his, and our, times.



    Roy Lichtenstein, quoted in Carolyn Lanchner, Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2009, p. 23.

    ii Lichtenstein, quoted ibid.

    iii Lichtenstein, quoted in Michael Kimmelman, “AT THE MET WITH: Roy Lichtenstein; Disciple of Color and Line, Master of Irony,” The New York Times, Mar. 31, 1995, online.

    iv Lichtenstein, quoted in Lanchner.

    • Provenance

      Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
      John Stefanidis, London
      Private Collection, Switzerland
      Sotheby’s, New York, November 12, 2002, lot 47
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Property from a Notable Contemporary Collection

Ο ◆18

Mirror #7

signed and dated “rf Lichtenstein ‘71” on the reverse
oil and Magna on canvas
diameter 36 in. (91.4 cm)
Executed in 1971.

Full Cataloguing

$3,000,000 - 4,000,000 

Sold for $2,843,000

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Mayer
Associate Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1206

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 May 2023