Purist Painting with Dice

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  • Provenance

    Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
    Galerie Aronowitsch, Stockholm
    Blum Helman Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1978

  • Literature

    Jack Cowart, Roy Lichtenstein: 1970-1980, exh. cat., St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, 1981, p. 90 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    With Purist Painting with Dice, Roy Lichtenstein puts forward a striking still life that revives 20th century modernism through a Pop art lens. Painted in 1975, this work belongs to the acclaimed series of Purist Paintings with which Lichtenstein paid homage to the post-Cubist movement of Purism, another example of which resides in the Broad Museum, Los Angeles. Taking the pared-down still lifes of such artists as Fernand Léger as a point of departure to explore form, color and line, Lichtenstein has here built a tightly cropped composition depicting a pitcher and two dice. Rendered with Lichtenstein’s characteristic zones of striping and planes of green and blue color, Purist Painting with Dice beautifully demonstrates Lichtenstein’s slick, distilled aesthetic and intuitive formal balance.

    An ambitious departure from the Ben-Day dot paintings that had catapulted Lichtenstein to fame in the 1960s, Purist Painting with Dice exemplifies how Lichtenstein, in the 1970s, turned to the art historical canon – creating a remarkably varied and imaginative body of work in which the subject of the still life figured powerfully. While Lichtenstein created a number of still life paintings in the 1960s, beginning in 1972 his investigation became what John Wilmerding has described, “more wide-ranging and adventurous in its reinterpretations of the work of both major figures and less-discussed modern masters” (John Wilmerding, Roy Lichtenstein, Still Lifes, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2010, p. 10).

    Having embarked on a series of Cubist inspired still-lives in 1973, Lichtenstein turned to Purism in 1975 – effectively emulating the trajectory of art history that had seen Le Corbusier and Amédée Ozenfant conceive of Purism as a direct critique of Cubism in 1918. Purism, notably also championed by Fernand Léger, sought a more reductive type of painting that stripped objects back to their most elemental forms. Aiming to elevate the ubiquitous and utilitarian, the Purists embraced technology and an industrial aesthetic, aiming to infuse objects such as glasses and bottles with a timeless quality found in classical Greek architecture. This impulse towards flat, minimalist imagery would not only come to inform modern and postwar art at large, but would also be absorbed within the slick mass media images that fascinated Lichtenstein and his fellow Pop artists. While Lichtenstein throughout the 1970s explored such art historical movements as Futurism, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism, it is this parallel that gives his discrete series of Purist Paintings a sharp conceptual edge that wholly sets it apart in Lichtenstein’s oeuvre.

    Yet while Lichtenstein embraced the still life motif as an occasion to explore formal concerns in a manner that paralleled the concerns of Purism, he pursued a more free-style approach by adapting and combining Purist elements with his own Pop art idiom. Indeed, whereas he similarly builds the composition through flat planes of color, Lichtenstein crucially delineates the schematic forms with thick outlines reminiscent of Piet Mondrian’s crisp geometries, and disrupts the continuity of the image through areas of parallel lines. This striping, a characteristic feature of Lichtenstein’s work in the 1970s, notably developed out of the drawings that he created as the basis for paintings such as the present one. His exacting process saw him create typically one or two thumbnail studies that he would project onto the canvas to create an enlarged image. If Lichtenstein had previously used stripes in his drawings to indicate Ben-Day dots, he now applied slashes as a stylistic device in their own right – effectively setting the graphic precursor for the flattened sculptures he would begin creating in the late 1970s.

    Reviving the creed of Purism with a Pop art vision, Purist Painting with Dice beautifully demonstrates how Lichtenstein took the central tenets of Purism to new formal and conceptual pastures. Not only does it offer an intriguing point of departure to reflect upon the legacy of Purism in the contemporary age, it encapsulates the critical moment in Lichtenstein’s career when he pushed beyond his own achievements of the 1960s to reinvigorate both his own practice and the century old tradition of still life painting.

158

Purist Painting with Dice

signed and dated “rf Lichtenstein '75” on the reverse
oil and Magna on canvas
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm.)
Painted in 1975.

Estimate
$450,000 - 650,000 

sold for $652,500

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261
jmccord@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale Morning Session

New York Auction 15 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue