Roy Lichtenstein - 20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Monday, December 7, 2020 | Phillips

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  • The culmination of a half-century interrogation into the genre of self-portraiture, Coup de Chapeau I, 1996 epitomizes Roy Lichtenstein’s idiosyncratic visual language and unconventional treatment of the traditional theme. Bursting with dynamism, the self-portrait Coup de Chapeau I animates a vibrant, Dick Tracy-esque yellow fedora atop two counterpoised arcs of primary colors that diverge from a Ben-Day dotted collision. Interpreted in French colloquially as “hats off”—the idiomatic expression “coup de chapeau” implies a double entendre that Lichtenstein manipulates: “coup” directly translates to “blow” or “hit,” which he hyperbolizes into an American comics-derived climax where the protagonist is struck by the upcoming 21st century. Coming to auction for the first time, Coup de Chapeau I embraces the parodic quintessence of its famed predecessor Coup de Chapeau (Self-Portrait), 1996 and anticipates the three-dimensional vitality of its successor, Coup de Chapeau II, 1996, of which one from the edition is held by the Broad Museum, Los Angeles.



    A Portrait of Omission


    Arguably Lichtenstein’s first self-portrait in sculpture, Coup de Chapeau I is ironically void of any somatic reference to the artist. In fact, within his career-long investigation of portraiture, Lichtenstein progressively began to utilize his corporeal absence in works to paradoxically hint at his underlying artistic presence. This tendency to conceal himself ostensibly began with his Cubist self-portraits in the 1970s, such as Self-Portrait II, 1976, The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection, in which his visage is rendered abstract to the point of indistinguishability. Lichtenstein subsequently painted Self-Portrait, 1978, which is composed of a vacant, beveled mirror adorned with Ben-Day dots floating above a blank white t-shirt, further abstracting his physical likeness from supposed portrayals of himself.


    [left] René Magritte, Le Principe de Plaisir, 1937. Private Collection, Digital Banque d'Images, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Roy Lichtenstein, Self-Portrait, 1978. Artwork © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

    His predilection for this ironic, bodily absence in his own self-portraiture paralleled his resolve to eliminate any suggestion of spontaneous or artistic gesture in his oeuvre. In this way, Lichtenstein’s nuanced outlook on authorship became a hallmark of his visual style. As Michael Lobel has elucidated, “Lichtenstein oscillates between an erasure of self and an attempt—however conflicted and provisional—to reconstitute a semblance of authorial presence.”i His experimentation with omission even goes beyond self-portraiture and is discernible in his most iconic images, such as Girl with Ball, 1961, Museum of Modern Art, New York, whose subject is more suggestive of a weightless, decorative adornment than a physical inhabitant.


    Farewell to the 20th Century


    This progression towards Lichtenstein’s absence paradoxically signaling his aesthetic presence becomes increasingly palpable in the Coup de Chapeau series, which consists of just one painting and two sculpture variations, along with their respective preliminary sketches and maquettes. First explored in paint, Coup de Chapeau (Self-Portrait) depicts a man constructed of Ben-Day dots struck by his own hat with such force that his glasses have been knocked off; Lichtenstein addressed the enigmatic blow in a study for the work which he labelled “man hit by the 21st century.” Another sketch for the painting portrays a mirrored image of the first, but with nearly all of the man’s visage obfuscated by the explosion, evocative of the concealed face in René Magritte’s The Great War, 1964. His experiment with omission intensified with Coup de Chapeau I, his first self-portrait with unequivocally no corporeal reference to himself: Lichtenstein’s anticipation of the new millennium is captured exclusively by his airborne hat along with its hyperbolic arc and collision. The pinnacle of his inquiry into invisibility, Coup de Chapeau I is seemingly anonymous yet replete with manifest authorship and identity, encapsulating a formal lexicon and satire that is Lichtenstein’s alone.


    [left] Roy Lichtenstein, Coup de Chapeau II, 1996. Artwork © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein [right] Roy Lichtenstein, Coup de Chapeau (Self-Portrait), 1996. Artwork © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein 

    Coup de Chapeau I strikes a dynamic tension between two- and three-dimensionality, propelled by the sculpture’s forceful launch into space despite its striking lack of structural depth, which causes the image to virtually disappear when viewed in the round. “These pieces exist between paintings and sculpture in terms not only of genre but also of structure,” Hal Foster has delineated. “If most representational painting is a two-dimensional encoding of three-dimensional objects, Lichtenstein reverses the process here, and freezes it somewhere in between.”ii Foster’s observation aligns with Lichtenstein’s conviction that “the best sculptors have been painters” who are accustomed to resolving 2D and 3D spatial dilemmas.iii Indeed, the planar flatness of Coup de Chapeau I echoes the uncompromising two-dimensionality of his most celebrated paintings from the 1960s, such as Drowning Girl, 1963, Museum of Modern Art, New York and Look Mickey, 1961, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Accordingly, Coup de Chapeau I blurs conventional distinctions between painting and sculpture and typifies the artist’s signature fixation with hyper-flatness in all media.


    Lichtenstein’s “Action Painting” in 3D


    Dynamic yet static, Coup de Chapeau I exemplifies Lichtenstein’s ability to freeze dramatic, kinetic scenes into seemingly fixed moments. The fiery explosion of speckled Ben-Day dots recalls more so humorous, fictional depictions of crashes in comic book pages than factual and kinetic collisions. These suspended instants pepper Lichtenstein’s oeuvre: the subject of Coup de Chapeau I is reminiscent of the stationary combustion depicted in works created decades earlier, such as Whaam!, 1963, Tate Modern and Explosion I, 1965, Museum Ludwig, Cologne. Interpreted as a satirical response to Abstract Expressionism—and more specifically, Harold Rosenberg’s 1950s idiom “action painting”—Lichtenstein’s explosion motif ironically captures incendiary activity within fixed inertia, caricaturing the intellectual pretension of the mid-century New York art world with vernacular references to American comics.


    Andy Warhol, Popeye, 1961. Artwork © 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 
    Andy Warhol, Popeye, 1961. Artwork © 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

    Created a year before his death, Coup de Chapeau I encapsulates Lichtenstein’s unique visual vocabulary as well as his anticipation for a century he would not experience; reexamining his entire oeuvre, the sculpture underscores his career-long concerns with irony, cross-media dialogue, and the “super flat” composition of comic books. As a result, Coup de Chapeau I both ridicules and earnestly challenges mid-20th century artistic tenets and conservatism, epitomizing Lichtenstein’s revolutionary post-modern spirit.

    i Michael Lobel, Image Duplicator: Roy Lichtenstein and the Emergence of Pop Art, New Haven, 2002, p. 73 
    ii Hal Foster, Roy Lichtenstein: Sculpture, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, London, 2005, p. 10. 
    iii Roy Lichtenstein quoted in Richard Brown Baker, “Oral history interview with Roy Lichtenstein,” November 15, 1963 – January 15, 1964, Smithsonian Archives of American Art, online. 

    • Provenance

      Estate of Roy Lichtenstein, New York
      Acquired from the above via Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York by the present owner in 2012

    • Exhibited

      Venice, Italian Pavilion, Future, Present, and Past in La Biennale di Venezia, 47th International Art Exhibition, June 15 - November 9, 1997, p. 704
      Chicago, Richard Gray Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein: Recent Drawings and Sculpture, November 6 - December 31, 1997, no. 16, p. 36 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 37)
      Mexico City, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes; Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey; Valencia, Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno; A Coruña, Fundación Pedro Barrié de la Maza; Lisbon, Centro Cultural de Belém, Roy Lichtenstein: Imágenes reconocibles: Escultura, pintura y gráfica / Roy Lichtenstein: Imagens Reconhecíveis, July 9, 1998 - August 15, 2000 (illustrated, pp. 37, 207); then traveled as Washington, D.C., The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Roy Lichtenstein: Sculpture & Drawings, June 5 - September 30, 1999, no. 161, p. 193 (illustrated)
      Miami, Museum of Contemporary Art, Roy Lichtenstein: Inside/Outside, December 11, 2001 - February 24, 2002, no. 37, p. 106 (illustrated, n.p.)
      New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein: Mostly Men, September 15 - October 30, 2010, p. 31 (another example exhibited)

    • Literature

      Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 2012, p. 25, note 29
      Roy Lichtenstein Sculptor, exh. cat., Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova, Milan, 2013, no. 225, pp. 264, 285 (another example illustrated, p. 265)

Property of an Important Northeast Private Collector


Coup de Chapeau I

incised with the artist's signature, number and date "6/6 rf Lichtenstein '96" and stamped with the Tallix foundry mark on the base
painted and patinated bronze
26 1/2 x 26 1/2 x 7 1/8 in. (67.3 x 67.3 x 18.1 cm)
Executed in 1996, this work is number 6 from an edition of 6.

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

Full Cataloguing

$500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for $937,500

Contact Specialist

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


20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 7 December 2020