Roy Lichtenstein - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, November 16, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Postscript on the Nude: Roy Lichtenstein's Late Renaissance

    Following his blockbuster 1993 retrospective at the Guggenheim, Roy Lichtenstein married his signature Benday dots with fresh energy in his late 'Nudes' series. Barbara Castelli and Phillips' Scott Nussbaum discuss one of the best and largest works from this series, 1994's dreamy 'Nude in Mirror', which comes to auction on 16 November.

  • Provenance

    Leo Castelli, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Nudes, November 19 – December 17, 1994
    Roslyn Harbor, Nassau County Museum of Art, Feminine Image, March 2 – May 25, 1997, p. 79 (illustrated)
    Kunsthaus Bregenz, Roy Lichtenstein: Classic of the New, June 12 – September 4, 2005, p. 136-137 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Michael Kimmelman, "Disciple of Color and Line, Master of Irony" New York Times, March 31, 1995, pp. C1, C27 (illustrated)
    Ulrike Breit and Ingo Schertler, "Irre zerstört Bild von Roy Lichtenstein!", Neue Vorarlberger Tageszeitung, September 4, 2005, no. 209, pp. 12-13 (illustrated and on the cover)
    Graham Bader, Hall of Mirrors, Roy Lichtenstein and the Face of Painting in the 1960s, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2010, p. xvi (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Please refer to the supplemental catalogue for additional information.

    Roy Lichtenstein’s celebrated Nudes series, with comic imagery once again at the center of his oeuvre, marked the artist’s career coming full circle. As the first series Lichtenstein undertook following his comprehensive survey in 1993 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum, the Nudes elegantly encapsulated many of the recurring themes found throughout the artist’s career.

    In particular, Nudes in Mirror, 1994, stands as one of the best iterations from this series. Lichtenstein offers a nude figure on a dramatic scale rendered in his signature Benday dots. Gently toying with her hair, she gazes dreamily in a mirror that ostensibly captures her own likeness, but also reflects a duplicated image at the mirror’s edge. As such, Nudes in Mirror offers the viewer a perfect distillation of Lichtenstein’s graphic lexicon operating both formally and figuratively, the ultimate erotic punctuation to his final series. “Lichtenstein’s Nudes in Mirror is one of his most frankly voyeuristic works,” critic Harry Cooper wrote. “It provides the perfect rhyme of a dot with a nipple, recalling other sensual rhymes of the dot in his work: with the dimples on a golf ball, the pores in a sponge the circle or a ring about to be enfingered, a peephole.”

    Lichtenstein was unquestionably among the greatest contributors to Pop Art’s placement in the pantheon of art historical movements. While comic heroines had been a core component of the artist’s practice from the 1960s, as epitomized in such iconic works as Girl with Ball from 1961 and Drowning Girl from 1963, the women captured in Nudes are undeniably more contemporary and erotic iterations of femininity. As critic Avis Berman noted, "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. In contrast to Lichtenstein's original romance-comic pictures, this world flourishes exuberantly without men or engagement rings or kisses." (“’Joy and Bravura and Irreverence’: Roy Lichtenstein and Images of Women,” Roy Lichtenstein-Classic of the New, exh. cat., Kunsthaus Bregenz, Vienna, 2005, p. 143)

    As the artist’s last major series before his death in 1997, Nudes in many ways pays homage to Picasso, a major influence on the artist. In particular, Lichtenstein noted the impact of Picasso’s image of Marie Thérèse had on him: “Girl before a Mirror has a special meaning for me. Its strength and color relationships are extraordinary…it reaches a level of discord and intensity that has few parallels.”

    Picasso’s influence on Lichtenstein can be seen as early as 1964 in Girl in Mirror, which played with notions of object and reflection on a single compositional plane, and then more fervently in the aftermath of Picasso’s death in 1973. During the 1970s, Lichtenstein started a sustained interrogation of Picasso’s practice, first exploring his Cubist still lifes and later the surrealist Bather with Beach Ball of 1932, which Lichtenstein reimaged as abstracted amoeba-like forms distilled to individual features of lips, eyes or hair. While the series did not mark the first time Lichtenstein used the nude figure, the Nudes demonstrate the first time the subject took center stage. Like Picasso, Matisse and others, Lichtenstein seized on the classic theme of “the artist and his muse” late in life; but in works like Nudes in Mirror, he offers a more nuanced motif by recalling artists who sought to recreate the painted mirror. “As monumental celebrations of domesticated eroticism, a number of them [the Nudes] involve mirrors, which in their function as reflections of narcissism, can also extend to the related theme of the artist and model,” curator Sheena Wagstaff wrote.

    In the painting, a second female figure is reflected in the mirror. No longer a supporting character, she is a mirror-image of the protagonist closely duplicating the position of the main figure’s head and arm. As Dorothy Lichtenstein noted, duplication and reflection, especially when presented in the female form, was a recurring theme in her husband’s work. “He really got interested in that theme again,” she said, “the paintings with two women…that was certainly a theme that Roy always returned to.” While the stolen glimpse of a woman captured at a moment of heightened intimacy is a recurring theme in Western art, the voyeur’s gaze has always been a man’s. In his Nudes, Lichtenstein has taken this classical narrative and subverted it. Ironically, the male gaze is largely absent in this series—unless the mirror here is a symbol of the artist’s presence. Lichtenstein has placed the viewer in the position of the naked woman looking at herself, thereby replacing the male gaze with the female.

    In the present work, Lichtenstein allows swathes of blue dots to gradate over the naked torso of his female figure. In keeping with the creative method he developed in his first Pop works, the present work evolved from a meticulous process of selection and reimaging that found inspiration in his archives of comic and magazine clippings. The specific inspiration for the present work was culled from a 1964 romance comic book frame from Secret Hearts. Whereas the original image presented a scene of muted tension, in Lichtenstein’s reimaging the scene takes a more provocative turn. Lichtenstein has nude figures standing in for clothed ones and has added an open window to the composition, a motif Sheena Wagstaff said is a “hackneyed symbol for sexual availability.” In addition, the main figure is no longer gazing into a space beyond the viewer, but is reflected in a mirror set against a solid yellow background, the edges of which are barely held within the confines of the canvas.

    In the artist’s world, the mirror often performs as an allegory for Lichtenstein, a conduit to address the elusive notion of reproducibility. Lichtenstein advances his formal and conceptual concerns in Nudes in Mirror through the use of broad, diagonal bands of Benday dots and flat expanses of color that simulate reflected light. Here, the artist employs gradated blue dots, punctuated with yellow and black, balanced with broad swathes of light blue and red that paradoxically convey the unmistakable reflection of light off the glass surface despite offering no real reproducible image. These flashes of color at once unify the composition and fragment it, which playfully capture the viewer’s inability to view the reflection. The refracted image is frozen on the surface, creating a clear disconnect between the way we perceive our world and the way the artist presented it. As a result, Lichtenstein succeeds in allowing this faceting between image and representation to come to the fore in Nudes in Mirron, a principle that is at the core of his practice.

    In his own unique visual language, Lichtenstein employs his characteristic Benday dots in the Nudes as indicators of light and shadow, creating strong contrasts to achieve the effect of chiaroscuro to evoke volume and depth. The blue Benday dots that overlay his figure act at once to indicate the cool, detached quality of the mirror, an object usually reserved for the personal reflections of self-portrait and to denote the curves and contours of his figure. Through an expanded color palette and vocabulary of patterned dots and diagonals, Lichtenstein’s composition became more intricate. By alternating their size, density and saturation, he uses his distinctive motif to new effect, ultimately informing the way we perceive light and shadow.

    These graphic techniques create a peculiar spatial conundrum that highlights the artificiality and unreliability of the image. "My nudes are part light and shade, and so are the backgrounds, with dots to indicate the shade," Lichtenstein explained. "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. I don't really know why I chose nudes. I'd never done them before, so that was maybe something, but I also felt chiaroscuro would look good on a body. And with my nudes there's so little sense of body flesh or skin tones–they're so unrealistic–that using them underscored the separation between reality and artistic convention."


Nudes in Mirror

signed and dated "rf Lichtenstein '94" on the reverse
oil and Magna on canvas
100 x 84 in. (254 x 213.4 cm.)
Painted in 1994.

Estimate On Request

Sold for $21,530,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 November 5 PM EST