Estimate: US$4,000,000 - US$6,000,000
Price realised: US$4,085,000
18 Roy Lichtenstein Still Life 1972 oil and Magna on canvas 36 x 40 in. (91.4 x 101.6 cm.) Signed and dated "rf Lichtenstein 72" on the reverse.
Provenance Leo Castelli, New York Galerie Beyeler, Basel James Corcoran Gallery, Santa Monica Gagosian Gallery, New York Exhibited Basel, Galeria Beyeler, Still Lifes in the Twentieth Century, October 1978 - February 1979 Literature B. Fahlman, American Images: The SBC Collection of Twentieth-Century American Art, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996 S. Ratibor, ed., Roy Lichtenstein, Still Lifes, New York: Gagosian Gallery, 2010, fig. 13, p. 20 (illustrated) Catalogue Essay “ Art relates to perception, not nature. All abstract artists try to tell you that what they do comes from nature, and I’m always trying to tell you that what I do is completely abstract.” ROY LICHTENSTEIN, 1995 Though we most commonly associate Roy Lichtenstein’s work with the subjects of his time–the cartoon strip, the post-modern brushstroke, the printer’s “Ben-Day” dot–we must not forget that Lichtenstein was both an ardent student of art history and a fiercely passionate teacher. While hailed as one of the two progenitors of Pop Art, Lichtenstein was far more nuanced than any label would suggest, and he took a great deal of time to explore his relationship to the great artists that had come before him. The result of Lichtenstein’s looking backwards was a series of ingenious pictures that prove him both an agent of change as well as a stalwart for tradition, as formal as he was exploratory. The present lot, Still Life, 1971, is among his very first works in the series–it is Lichtenstein’s tribute to an eternal trope in art history. After exploding onto the contemporary art scene in 1961, Lichtenstein had grown used to working in a variety of forms under the advisement of Leo Castelli. Simultaneously, he was perfecting his own brand of abstraction: the printer’s Ben-Day dot, the Fauvist blocks of colors, and various other visual. Yet, after Lichtenstein’s completion of his comic strip paintings (to which he would return only rarely in his later career), he found himself at an impasse. Pop art in its original form was becoming a subject of the past, for the massive national attention that it garnered during the first half of the 1960s was exhausting the American public through its overexposure. “Lichtenstein saw this and began adjusting his work accordingly. He couldn’t do much to its basic form; the defining elements–dots, lines, color–were by now unalterable. What he could change was content.”(H. Cotter, “Roy Lichtenstein— Retospective: at the National Gallery of Art”, The New York Times, October 18, 2012) His next move, as opposed to creating paintings that portrayed Pop/consumerist iconography, was to investigate the art of subjectivity itself; the late 1960s and early 1970s brought several introspective series that explored the painter’s many component pieces, from the Brushstrokes, to the Reversed Canvasses, to the series of the present lot, the Still Lifes. Lichtenstein had recently paid homage to the impressionist and Post-impressionist masters with his interiors series, but now he chose to take up the historical still life in his own hand and with his own series of visual tropes and signature motifs. Still Life, 1971 is no less a realistic portrayal of a common kitchen scene than one of Cezanne’s own, yet Lichtenstein’s method of abstraction competes with its subjects for attention. Lichtenstein limits his work to only a handful of colors, namely bright yellow, dark purple, cadmium red and white. But somehow the visual impact of the piece is greater than the sum of its hues, for Lichtenstein combines his colors with the subtle art of his motifs. the composition is dominated by the lushness of the heaping grapes—decidedly concord in favor. Sitting atop one another in a comical equality of size, the grapes bear Lichtenstein’s signature reflective strip—he artist’s economical method of portraying a light source in his pictures. Five grapes have detached and fall gracefully to the table, seducing the viewer to indulge in the ripe, sensuous fruit. Grapes
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