Roy Lichtenstein - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Tuesday, May 16, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Between 1981 and 1996, Roy Lichtenstein created nearly twenty distinct freestanding Brushstroke sculptures, ranging from desk-sized to monumental, alongside several editioned sculptures. In each of these works, the artist takes the brushstroke motif, which appears in his graphic work as early as the 1960s, and turns it into three dimensions. In Brushstroke Sculpture, 1982, we are faced with a four and a half-foot tall solid bronze depiction of six swift motions of paint rendered in vivid primary colors, each housed within a dramatic black border. The strokes are captured as if in action, leaving lingering bits of black paint drips in their wake, mid-air. The center of the sculpture is anchored by two large red strokes of paint forming an upside-down T shape, balancing upon bits of white and yellow, which connect to an oval base. By giving the bronze a shiny patina, Lichtenstein illustrates the raw, expressive materiality of the subject in a way that resembles wet paint. The wet brushstrokes are now pure subject matter, the act of painting broken down to its most basic form—moving paint across a canvas with a brush—while challenging the notion that a brushstroke is just a tool in a painter’s arsenal. In 3D form, Lichtenstein’s brushstrokes are not just a means to an end, but rather the end itself. As Diane Waldman aptly stated on the occasion of the artist’s 1993 retrospective, "...Lichtenstein implies that painting can be reduced to a sign and that brushstrokes can be the means by which we recognize, not only a style – but content.” i

    “Visible brushstrokes in a painting convey a sense of grand gesture; but in my hands, the brushstroke becomes a depiction of a grand gesture.”
    —Roy Lichtenstein
    Lichtenstein’s revolutionary Brushstroke Sculptures mark a critical moment in his career when he began to explore the concept of actual art making within the context of the Pop Art movement. In his bold and poignant style, Lichtenstein renders the brushstroke as an iconic and discernable symbol—one that appears repeatedly throughout his oeuvre. While the 1981-1986 brushstroke sculptures like the present work are abstract in nature, in 1987, he starts to use the brushstroke motif as a building block in three-dimensional portraits in the Brushstroke Heads. Like Warhol, who recontextualized his 1960s screens in his later work, Lichtenstein refers to his own symbols again and again throughout his practice so that we associate him with icons such as the 3D brushstroke. Recognized for their importance in the artist’s prolific oeuvre, other examples of the Brushstroke Sculptures are housed in esteemed public collections such as the Dayton Art Institute and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.


    A detail of the present work

    Often turning to popular culture as a source for his work, Lichtenstein took inspiration from comic books for his first Brushstroke paintings of the 1960s. In particular, he based the motif on the story titled The Painting from Strange Suspense Stories, October 1964, which chronicles a brushstroke coming to life and haunting its painter. Lichtenstein’s earliest paintings of the subject matter place the isolated brushstroke on a background of his signature Ben-Day dots, with drips suspended in a sea of pattern. In the 1981-1986 Brushstroke Sculptures made decades later, Lichtenstein further enlivens this motif by creating an almost life-size representation of the gesture in three dimensions—an object we can walk around. Now, the backdrop is not a flat picture plane of dots, but the open air around it that we share.


    God of Coligny, late 1st century AD. Image: Manuel Cohen / Scala Archives, Florence

    Lichtenstein’s first depictions of the brushstroke in his 1965-1967 paintings are also understood to be a reaction to Abstract Expressionism, the leading movement of the decade prior. Taking inspiration from artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Lichtenstein was captivated by the painterly motions of their work and the manner in which their paint created rhythmic harmonies on the canvas. In his own interpretation, he takes the active strokes which dominated these 1950s canvases and treats them like subjects of a portrait, in a way which monumentalizes the gesture. In the sculptures of the 1980s, this is taken a step further through the subject’s casting in bronze, exaggerating the idea that the brushstrokes are main characters in their own right—now as if elevating them to the status of an ancient Roman bust. In his distinct Pop vernacular, Lichtenstein’s parody of Abstract Expressionism becomes commercial and reproducible. As such, the present work provokes an important conversation about the significance of painting.



     i Diane Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1993, pp. 156-157.

    • Provenance

      Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
      Galerie Beyeler, Basel
      James Goodman Gallery, New York
      Betty Freeman, Beverly Hills (acquired in 1985)
      Christie's Private Sales, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2009

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Galerie Daniel Templon, Roy Lichtenstein: Oeuvres Récentes, January–February 1983, p. 220 (another example illustrated and exhibited)
      New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Sculpture, June 11–September 1983 (another example exhibited)
      Tokyo, Nantenshi Gallery; Nagoya, Gallery Humanité, Roy Lichtenstein: Recent Painting and Sculpture, June 6–July 9, 1983 (another example exhibited)
      Ontario, Gallery Stratford; Toronto, College Park; Musée du Quebec; Halifax, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia; Art Gallery of Windsor; Edmonton Art Gallery; Vancouver Art Gallery; Calgary, Glenbow Museum; Montreal, Musée d'Art Contemporain, American Accents, June 1983–January 1985, n.p. (another example illustrated and exhibited)
      New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Sculpture: John Chamberlain, Sandro Chia, Donald Judd, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Julian Schnabel, Richard Serra, Lawrence Weiner, June–September 1983 (another example exhibited)
      New York, Sixty-Five Thompson Street, Roy Lichtenstein Bronze Sculpture 1976-1989, May 19–July 1, 1989, no. 23, pp. 64, 65, 89 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 65)
      Mexico City, Museo del Palacio de Bella Artesa; Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art; Valencia, Instituto Valenciano de Art Moderno; A Coruña, Fundación Pedro Barrié de la Maza, Roy Lichtenstein: Imágenes Reconocibles: Escultura, Pintura y Grafica, July 9, 1998–April 23, 2000; then traveled as Lisbon, Centro Cultural de Belem, Roy Lichtenstein: Imagens Reconhecíveis, May 11–August 15, 2000, no. 89, pp. 18, 140 (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      Roslyn Harbor, Nassau County Museum of Art, Long Island Collects: An Exhibition Celebrating Art from Long Island Collections, May 12–August 4, 2002 (another example exhibited)
      Roslyn Harbor, Nassau County Museum of Art, Master Artworks from Private Collections, August 21–November 6, 2005 (another example exhibited)
      New York, James Goodman Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein, Works on Paper: A Retrospective, November 20–December 20, 2006, n.p. (installation view of another example illustrated)
      Mänttä, Serlachius Museum Gösta, SuperPop!, June 14–November 14, 2014, pp. 82-83 (illustrated, p. 83)
      Salzburg, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Roy Lichtenstein: The Loaded Brush, July 27–September 28, 2019 (another example exhibited)

Property from an Esteemed Private Collection


Brushstroke Sculpture

incised with the artist's signature, number, foundry mark and date "6/6 rf Lichtenstein '82" on the base
paint on patinated bronze
54 1/4 x 27 1/2 x 11 in. (137.8 x 69.9 x 27.9 cm)
Executed in 1982, this work is number 6 from an edition of 6.

Full Cataloguing

$500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for $1,016,000

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan

Specialist, Head of Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 May 2023