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  • Nude with Joyous Painting (Study), 1994, stands as an extraordinary look into  the process of Roy Lichtenstein’s iconic Nudes, his final major series. With many now in major museum collections—such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and The Broad, Los Angeles—this chapter in Lichtenstein’s oeuvre is characterized by “formally groundbreaking…celebrations of domesticated eroticism” that take place in bourgeois rooms, relics from his Interiors series. These Nudes—the first body of work executed after his monumental retrospective in 1993 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York—were Lichtenstein’s last contributions to art history and encapsulate his reflections on both his career and modernism when he was likely galvanized from the 1994 exhibition Picasso and the Weeping Women: Marie-Thérèse Walter and Dora Maar at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

     

    [left] Pablo Picasso, Nude Woman in a Red Armchair, 1932. Tate Gallery, London, Artwork © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Francis Picabia, Femmes au bull-dog (Women with Bulldog), 1941-1942. Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Photo: Jean-Claude Planchet © CNAC/MNAM/Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris Lichtenstein’s Nudes
    [left] Pablo Picasso, Nude Woman in a Red Armchair, 1932. Tate Gallery, London, Artwork © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Francis Picabia, Femmes au bull-dog (Women with Bulldog), 1941-1942. Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Photo: Jean-Claude Planchet © CNAC/MNAM/Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris  

    Lichtenstein’s Nudes 

     

    From its first major appearance as a postmodern rendering of an Henri Matisse odalisque in Artist's Studio with Model, 1974, Art Institute of Chicago, the female nude was repeatedly employed by Lichtenstein to index the history of art itself as perhaps the canon’s most iconic trope. The artist picked up this motif again from 1993 to 1997, with the New York Daily News declaring that “the king of the blown-up comic-book frame had seemed to be settling into a quiet, Old Masterly period of late—but he’s broken out with a bang with his new series of nudes. Yep, nudes—the least politically acceptable subject he could take up today.” Unlike his art historical forebearers, who all worked from live models, Lichtenstein culled imagery from comic books as he had done in the 1960s, revisiting some of the very same cartoon clips for these 1990s Nudes he had pulled earlier in his career.

     

    Girls’ Romances, August 1963. Arleigh Publishing Corp.
    Girls’ Romances, August 1963. Arleigh Publishing Corp.

    For Nude with Joyous Painting (Study), the artist used an August 1963 issue of DC Comic’s Girls’ Romances as source material. In a story titled My Rival’s Secret, a young blonde woman named Gloria despondently looks at the ocean, thinking: “Although I tried to bury my sorrow...It doesn’t seem...that even the sea...is deep enough.” She is saved at the last moment by the handsome Bob, who yells to her: “Don’t go in -- There’s a tremendous undertow!” By introducting an image from popular culture to his own context and settling, Lichtenstein evokes collage’s ability to create new meaning from disparate objects. 

    "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

    In the panel used for the study, Gloria is clothed; in fact, all of the women in his Nudes were, and Lichtenstein disrobed them using only his imagination in an intentionally provactive pictorial decision. "It's kind of amusing that you just paint them and leave the clothes off and it means something different,” the artist observed. “It's more riveting.” These 1990s Nudes also deviate from Lichtenstein’s earlier works in both color and depth: instead of relying on the few primary shades he used previously, these Nudes feature a kaledoiscopic array of over 50 colors—hints of which can be seen in the colored pencil sections of this study, which feature several reds and blues.

     

    After four decades of radically interrogating fundamental questions of art and art-making, Nude with Joyous Painting (Study) shows Lichtenstein going back to basics: in the final years of his career, how better to circle back to the beginning—of both his oeuvre and Western art history—than to revisit the female nude?

     

    A Conductor of Paint

     

    Growing up during New York’s jazz age, Lichtenstein spent his teenage years frequenting music clubs around the city and playing the flute, piano, and clarinet with a small band of friends. This early passion for music can be subtly traced throughout his oeuvre, perhaps first surfacing in his 1965 screenprint Reverie; even in works with no conspicuous allusions to notes or sounds, symphonies of color and form appear as visual melodies in and of themselves. “I’m trying to make paintings like giant musical chords, with a polyphony of colours that is nuts but works,” Lichtenstein told The New York Times in 1995. “Like Thelonious Monk or Stravinsky.”

    "What I really want to do is music, but I won’t give up my day job!" 
    — Roy Lichtenstein 

    This recurrent motif can also be found in Nude with Joyous Painting (Study), as the artwork to the right of a nude, a stunning abstracted representation of sheet music symbols. The “joyous painting” is a reference to Lichtenstein’s own work Unchained Melody, 1994, which preceded the Composition series of screenprints that he would produce in 1996. “Roy loved music and the studio was always filled with the sounds he loved. Bach and bebop were his favorites,” his wife, Dorothy Lichtenstein, revealed. And wouldn’t you know, those musical notes found their way into his paintings.” Given the artist’s perennial ironic jabs at the art historical movements that constitute modernism—including Cubism, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism—it is possible to read these works as a tongue-in-cheek reference to Vasily Kandinsky’s Compositions that translated the spirituality of music into paint on canvas.

     

    [left] Roy Lichtenstein, Reverie, 1965. Artwork © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein [right] Detail of the present lot.
    [left] Roy Lichtenstein, Reverie, 1965. Artwork © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein [right] Detail of the present lot.

    Music and modernism also figure in Nude with Joyous Painting (Study)’s clear predecessor, Lichtenstein’s 1974 masterpiece Artist's Studio "The Dance," Museum of Modern Art, New York: a Pop appropriation of Matisse’s Still Life with “Dance,” 1909, The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Disrupting the French master’s work by inserting his own painting—Sound of Music, 1964—into the right side of the composition, Lichtenstein’s work foreshadows Nude with Joyous Painting (Study) by placing one of his own musical works next to an emblem of art history: the MoMA’s Dance (1) by Matisse in the earlier painting, and a nude in the later one. However, the two compositions share a conceptual affinity as well. While the dancers appear to be swinging to the “music” in Artist's Studio "The Dance," the woman appears to be listening to a sound in Nude with Joyous Painting (Study), leading the viewer to question whether the righthand paintings’ musical notes are representations of artworks or of real tones. Just as his Ben-Day dots emphasize the limits of painting by accentuating its flatness, Lichtenstein demonstrates that painting can’t sing or emit noise—but it can attempt to represent it in its own format.

     

    Roy Lichtenstein, Artist's Studio "The Dance, 1974. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Artwork © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein
    Roy Lichtenstein, Artist's Studio "The Dance", 1974. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Artwork © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

    Finding Modernism Through Postmodernism

     

    Is Lichtenstein’s nude—a motif that appeared frequently in his earlier work—threatened by his musical work of the 1990s? In this sense, does Nude with Joyous Painting (Study) depict a confrontation between two different moments in his career? Or, if the “joyous” musical painting is really a reference to Kandinsky and abstraction, is the storied figurative trope frightened that she will soon be supplanted by modern art? Regardless, Nude with Joyous Painting (Study) is a portrait of self-quotation to the second degree: it references Lichtenstein’s Artist’s Studios from the 1970s, which themselves were postmodernist visual jokes that inserted his own work into modernist scenes. It captures one of the most significant artists of the 20th century, in his final years, revisiting not only his career and legacy but modern and contemporary art as a whole—on his on terms and through his own approach.

  • Nude with Joyous Painting, 1994.
    Achieved $46,242,500 in 2020 
    • Provenance

      Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
      Private Collection, New York
      Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2002

    • Exhibited

      Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Roy Lichtenstein: Opera Prima, September 27, 2014 - January 25, 2015, no. 209, p. 190 (illustrated)
      Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Red over Yellow: A Selection from a Private Collection, June 21 – December 2, 2017, pp. 11, 43, 45 (illustrated, p. 44; installation view illustrated, pp. 35, 39, 59)

    • Literature

      Danilo Eccher, ed., Drawing First: 50 Years of Works on Paper, Milan, 2015, no. 209, p. 182 (illustrated)

    • Artist Biography

      Roy Lichtenstein

      One of the most influential and innovative American artists of the post-war period, Roy Lichtenstein ushered in the prominence of Pop Art through his high-impact representations of consumer imagery, common entertainment, and the accoutrements of contemporary life rendered in the Ben-Day dots of contemporary comic strips. Central to Lichtenstein’s practice was parody, which enabled the artist to engage with often-disparaged commercial source imagery from an ironic distance as he considered the nature of the banal and probed the boundaries of what fine art could be.

       

      While Lichtenstein’s early Pop work cemented his status as one of the main figures of one of the most iconic and original movements of postmodernism, he continued to develop his practice over the course of the following decades until his death in 1997. Retaining his characteristic comic style and ironic distance, Lichtenstein engaged new and disparate influences from Abstract Expressionism to Chinese landscape painting to evolve the subject of his own work and consider the contradictions of representation, style, and substance. Lichtenstein is a central figure in the 20th century art historical canon and accordingly his work is represented in the collections of major museums worldwide, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate, London; and Centre Pompidou, Paris.

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Property from a Distinguished Private Collection

Ο ◆25

Nude with Joyous Painting (Study)

signed and dated “rf Lichtenstein '94” lower right; signed and dated "rf Lichtenstein '94" on the reverse
colored pencil and graphite on paper
13 x 11 1/8 in. (33 x 28.3 cm)
Executed in 1994.

This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$1,500,000 - 2,000,000 

Sold for $1,672,500

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278

[email protected] 


 

20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 7 December 2020