Roy Lichtenstein - Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I New York Tuesday, November 14, 2023 | Phillips
  • The female figure made a triumphant reappearance in Roy Lichtenstein’s images in the 1990s, thirty years after his seminal Girl paintings. However, in this late body of work, the women have been lifted from their contrived, comic book settings to navigate worlds replete with motifs spanning the artist’s 50-year corpus. Often nude, they were birthed from his concurrent Interiors series that caricatured the sterile representations of Post-War bourgeois domesticity found in Architectural Digest spreads and Yellow Pages advertisements. First contained within decorative paintings on the walls, these women soon began to inhabit these homes themselves, their likeness as satirically commodified as the pristine furnishings which surrounded them.


    “I don't think the importance of the art has anything to do with the importance of the subject matter. I think importance resides more in the unity of the composition and in the inventiveness of perception.”
    —Roy Lichtenstein


    Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup (Study) exemplifies this remarkable chapter of work Lichtenstein executed in his final years, an introspective group of images that brought his career full circle. Created in 1994, the collage prefigures a larger aluminum wall relief created the following year with a similar composition. A disembodied woman’s head peers into one of Lichtenstein’s immaculate rooms, empty spaces that “…give you the feeling that you might be able to walk into them,” Lichtenstein expressed. “On the other hand, the painting is so artificial in style that you know it’s impossible.”i The room is not a lived-in space but a liminal one: there is no evidence that anyone has ever drank from the cup perfectly placed on a small table, or sat on the well-fluffed chair behind it. Even more disorienting is how the very vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines that are meant to establish a three-dimensional configuration undermine it. A crooked border cuts off the bottom of the image; not entirely defined, the chair cushions disappear into space. These inconsistencies are reminiscent of printing glitches, collapsing the illusion of depth and disrupting any pictorial coherency.


    René Magritte, Les valeurs personnelles, 1952. San Francisco Museum of Art. Image: Banque d'Images, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2023 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    The contouring suggested by Ben-Day dots, Lichtenstein’s stock-in-trade, further complicate the spatial logic of Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup (Study). The artist’s subjects “are part light and shade, and so are the backgrounds, with dots to indicate the shade,” Lichtenstein elucidated. “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.”ii Though they allude to the building blocks of draftsmanship and rudimentary chiaroscuro, the dots here simply figure as a two-dimensional decorative patterning: by not corresponding to any conceivable delineation of positive and negative place, they ironically emphasize the flatness of the picture plane instead of concealing it. The formal idiosyncrasies of Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup (Study) represent the culmination of Lichtenstein’s career-long efforts to convey a complete deconstruction of three-dimensional space. As a critic illuminated, “Lichtenstein’s work… is not so much about the subject matter as about what his treatment—outlines, unmodulated color, Ben-Day dots—does to the subject.”iii


    Caspar David Friedrich, Woman at a Window, 1822. Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin. Image: © NPL - DeA Picture Library / Bridgeman Images

    Though the protagonist is depicted as a Rückenfigur—a common art historical motif translating to “figure from the back”—it is clear by her perfectly-kept hair, gently tied back with a ribbon, that she epitomizes the Post-War feminine ideal. Lichtenstein’s often-blonde bombshells were typically sourced from 1960s romance comic books, which are evoked by the present work’s close-up framing and narrative simplicity. Within her field of vision is an emblem of Lichtenstein’s engagement with the lexicon of modernism—an enigmatic framed image harkening back to his “Surrealist” period in the late 1970s. The composition is particularly reminiscent of Pablo Picasso’s abstracted portrayals of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter from the 1930s, which Lichtenstein was reminded of in 1994 when he visited the exhibition Picasso & the Weeping Women at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. These feminine icons of the 20th century—Picasso’s women and Lichtenstein’s girls—meet in the present work, representing a direct confrontation between the “high culture” of modern painting and the “low culture” of comic book illustration.


    Pablo Picasso, Two Figures (Marie-Thérèse and her Sister Reading), 1934. Private Collection. Image: © Christie's Image, Artwork: © 2023 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

    The plant and titular yellow cup that sit on the table are also a nod to Lichtenstein’s still-life works, another of the artist’s renegotiations of the art historical canon, which spanned 1972 through the early 1980s. In a sense, Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup (Study) can be interpreted as a metaphorical collage that coalesces much of the iconography that characterized Lichtenstein’s pioneering visual idiom: Ben-Day dots, comic book beauties, vacuous interiors, and modernist painting. This reading is underscored by the work’s function as a physical collage as well, an important step in the artist’s process that saw him work through compositional and stylistic questions. Though Lichtenstein eradicated any suggestion of the artist’s hand from his works, they each involved a painstakingly manual procedure perfected through a series of sketches and typically one collage. These preparatory works, such as Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup (Study), offer a unique window into the Pop master’s method, betraying the ironically handcrafted quality of his work and the systematic planning which allow the paintings and sculptures to appear effortless and mechanical. Layers of tape and painted paper in the present work lift the curtain behind the development of the subsequent wall relief fabricated by Donald Saff.


    Considering the myriad references to Lichtenstein’s oeuvre and process in the present work, it is perhaps no coincidence that Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup (Study) was executed the same year as Lichtenstein’s monumental retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, a time that saw him reflecting on the breadth of his career. Emblematic of the artist’s mature approach, Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup (Study) encapsulates many of the hallmarks of the artist’s iconic postmodern vision.



    i Roy Lichtenstein, "A Review of My Work Since 1961 - A Slide Presentation (November 11, 1995)," in Roy Lichtenstein, "October Files," Cambridge, 2001, p. 70.

    iiRoy Lichtenstein, quoted in Michael Kimmelmann, Portraits: Talking with Artists at the Met, the Modern, the Louvre, and Elsewhere, New York, 1998, p. 89.

    iiiMarina Isola, “Going Dotty over Roy Lichtenstein,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 28, 1995, p. 141.

    • Description

      Please see main sale page for guarantee notice

    • Provenance

      James Goodman Gallery, New York
      Maurice Keitelman Gallery, Brussels (February 1996)
      Private Collection, Brussels
      Galerie Hopkins-Custot, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2008

    • Exhibited

      Rotterdam, Kunsthal, Avant-gardes 1870 to the present: The Collection of the Triton Foundation, October 7, 2012–January 20, 2013, pp. 389, 552 (illustrated, p. 389)



Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup (Study)

signed and dated “Rf Lichtenstein '94” on the reverse
tape, cut painted paper, cut printed paper and graphite pencil on board
36 1/8 x 44 3/4 in. (91.8 x 113.7 cm)
Executed in 1994.

Full Cataloguing

$1,500,000 - 2,000,000 

Sold for $1,996,000

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Kolberg
Associate Specialist, Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1206

Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I

New York Auction 14 November 2023