Roy Lichtenstein - Evening & Day Editions London Thursday, September 21, 2023 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Roy Lichtenstein’s Two Nudes (1994) is a seminal work from the artist’s Nudes series, which was the final major body of work he created before his death. Despite his career-long preoccupation with cultural cliches, this late series was in fact the artist’s first concentration on art history’s most prolific motif: the female nude. Through appropriating comic book clippings and employing his iconic vocabulary of Ben-Day dots, the works encapsulate the seminal concerns that recurred throughout his oeuvre. Far beyond a simple study of the female form, Two Nudes is an innovative and profound meditation upon the nature of artistic creation and perception.


    Left: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Two Nudes on a blue sofa, 1920, Private Collection.
    Right: Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Women Bathing, 1892, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975, 1975.1.179

    Following in the footsteps of many of his forebearers, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Paul Cezanne, Lichtenstein rendered the classic theme of the nude later in life. Since antiquity, when Praxiteles carved the first monumental female nude, The Aphrodite of Knidos, in c. 350 BC, the female nude has been of unwavering importance as a subject in the history of art. Closely associated with notions of ideal beauty, mythology, sexuality and the study of anatomy, it has been a source of endless inspiration. In the modern period, artists such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Paul Gauguin utilised its association with beauty to combine it with their own visual language. Unlike their predecessors, their aim was not to render female form in as naturalistic a way as possible, but rather to explore their own formal concerns. In Two Nudes, by applying his distinctive aesthetic idiom to what is arguably the canon’s most persistent trope, Lichtenstein successfully indexes art history itself. Much alike those that came before him, for Lichtenstein this timeless subject matter creates an arena for him to further refine his interest in colour and pattern applications, pushing perceptions of what art is and what art can be.

    “With my nudes there’s no sense of body flesh or skin tones – they’re so unrealistic – that using them underscored the separation between reality and artistic convention.”
    —Roy Lichtenstein

    Kitagawa Utamaro, Abalone Divers, 1788, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Howard Mansfield Collection, Purchase, Rogers Fund, 1936, JP2737

    In Two Nudes, the figures and their domestic environment are rendered in bold, cartoonish outlines, overlaid with the artist’s signature dots, and accentuated with colour fields of pastel tones reminiscent of 1930s' Art Deco palettes. They are deliberately simplified, lacking corporeal characteristics, sharing minimal connection to the natural world. The dots and stripes act as modelling devices, yet simultaneously insist on the flatness of the picture planes. The refined lines, flattening of space and simplified yet elegant forms echo the Japanese woodblock prints that so inspired Lichtenstein. "My nudes 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 modelling in people’s minds, but that’s not what you get with these figures." Evocative of techniques used in commercial printing processes that are typically meant to go unnoticed, here the dots and diagonal lines emphatically convey a complete deconstruction of space. Therefore, despite the classical richness of the subject matter, the translation into the artist’s signature visual language is what distinguishes his Nudes series as a meditation on the act of painting.



    Veering sharply away from art history’s insistence on studying the human figure from life, Lichtenstein did not draw from models for his Nudes series. Instead, he continued his practice of working from vernacular imagery, specifically, from the August 1963 #94 issue of Girls’ Romances, a romance comic anthology, published by DC Comics during the Golden Age of comic books. In the original comic book clipping, a blonde girl sits on the side of a bed, consoling her friend, who is visibly upset with her head buried into the duvet. In a large speech-bubble, the blonde girl assures here friend – “Don’t cry, Nora – Dick will come back to you…”. On the dresser, among make-up and hair products, there is a photo frame with a young Ken-like man smiling out. However, unlike his earlier works that closely reproduced comic-book scenes, in the Nudes series Lichtenstein deviates and removes the figures’ clothes. Additional details – the speech bubble, the photo-frame, the make-up products scattered around the girls' room – are removed from Lichtenstein’s rendition. In this sense, the women in the Nudes series are extremely different to the distressed, crying, heartbroken girls in Lichtenstein’s earlier work. The artist perceived these later Nudes as a pronounced departure from his ironic portrayals of sentimental comic book love stories, which he described as "perfectly pure" and "ending in a nice kiss". While they do indeed encompass a similar essence of femininity and sensuality as his earlier creations, the late nudes revel in their own presence, devoid of any semblance of dependency or yearning for a male presence.

     “I want to hide the records of my hand.”
    —Roy Lichtenstein

    The Nudes series began in late 1993, when, in his New York studio, Lichtenstein started making the collage studies that would serve as models for the subsequent print series. In early 1994, Lichtenstein initiated working with his long-term collaborator, the master-printer Kenneth Tyler. Lichtenstein set to work at the Tyler Graphics Ltd. studio in Mount Kisco, New York, meticulously hand-cutting Rubylith stencils to outline each image. Five of the outlines were then translated onto magnesium relief printing plates and one onto a plastic relief plate. The iconic Ben-Day dots were created on a computer, then transferred to positive film before additional Rubylith stencils were cut for the block colours and diagonal lines. The stencils and films of dots were then registered using the original outline sketches and made into individual colour relief printing plates. Finally, voluptuous layers of pigment were printed to BFK Rives paper, ensuring a finished result with extremely rich colours and crisply delineated forms. Typifying Lichtenstein’s iconic machine-made aesthetic, this meticulous process enabled the metamorphosis of his comic book cuttings into large scale artworks that engage with not just the art historical canon, but also our very perception of what it is to make art.

    • Literature

      Mary Lee Corlett 284


Two Nudes, from Nudes Series (C. 284)

Relief print in colours, on BFK Rives paper, with full margins.
I. 105.1 x 88.9 cm (41 3/8 x 35 in.)
S. 121.9 x 104.1 cm (48 x 41 in.)

Signed, dated and numbered 18/40 in pencil (there were also 12 artist's proofs), published by Tyler Graphics Ltd., Mount Kisco, New York (with their blindstamp), framed.

Full Cataloguing

£100,000 - 200,000 

Sold for £254,000

Contact Specialist
+44 20 7318 4024

Rebecca Tooby-Desmond
Specialist, Head of Sale, Editions

Robert Kennan
Head of Editions, Europe

Anne Schneider-Wilson
Senior International Specialist, Editions

Louisa Earl
Associate Specialist, Editions

Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 21 - 22 September 2023