Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

New York

Roy Lichtenstein
1923 - 1997
colored pencil and pencil on paper
5 3/4 x 5 3/4 in. 14.6 x 14.6 cm.
Executed in 1964.
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Leo Steinberg, New York
Private Collection  


New York, Finch College Museum of Art, Art in Process: The Visual Development of a Painting, February - March 1965


Paul Bianchini and Diane Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein: Drawings and Prints, New York, 1970, cat. no. 64-18, p. 146, illustrated 
Exh. Cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, Lichtenstein: Girls, 2008, p. 77, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

Roy Lichtenstein's Girls stand as undisputed icons of postwar American art. With the jewel-like drawing Vicki! I – I Thought I Heard Your Voice! (Study), we are privy to the inception of this inspired subject matter and the artist’s uniquely graphic process, revealing in precious strokes of colored pencil the very genius of this Pop progenitor. Lichtenstein's drawing is breathtakingly beautiful, both in its subject and its physical facture. Lichtenstein continuously engaged with art historical genres and tropes, and, with this celebration of female beauty, his subject is timeless. As Diane Waldman noted, "In isolating the female figure from her original context, Lichtenstein further magnifies society's codification of women as ornaments, positioned for the male gaze only." (Diane Waldman in Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (and travelling), Roy Lichtenstein, 1993-1994, p. 117) It encapsulates the prevalent archetype of feminine beauty that had become the socio-cultural aspiration for millions since the Second World War. The dream of being the blonde heroine from the present study, or of winning Vicki’s heart, drove entire industries and billions of sales. Alfred Hitchcock populated his classic movie thrillers with a cast of divine blonde actresses - Grace Kelly, Eva Marie Saint, and Kim Novak - who played the part of independent, sassy protagonists before invariably being rescued by Cary Grant or James Stewart. Regarding the artist's Girls series, his wife Dorothy Lichtenstein has said, "I think that he was portraying his idea of the dream girl." (Dorothy Lichtenstein in conversation with Jeff Koons in Exh. Cat, New York, Gagosian Gallery, Lichtenstein: Girls, 2008, p. 15).  For the viewer, the compelling attraction of Vicki! I – I Thought I Heard Your Voice! (Study) certainly also belongs to the world of dreams. Informed by the irrational hope inspired by cinematic fantasy and comic book fiction, her character triggers an inexplicably emotional reaction, amplified in this intimately revelatory study of the artist’s technique.

Defining the apogee of Lichtenstein's artistic innovation, Vicki! I – I Thought I Heard Your Voice! (Study) is reflective of one of the most exciting art historical moments of the last century. Aesthetically engaging and conceptually radical, its enduring presence remains as ravishing today as it first appeared to esteemed art historian Leo Steinberg, in whose collection it first resided. Along with Dore Ashton, Henry Geldzahler, Hilton Kramer and Peter Selz, Steinberg was a speaker at a December 1963 symposium at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, attended by Lichtenstein, in which the term of "Pop Art" was endorsed to describe the new movement. Dorothy Seiberling, Steinberg's wife at the time, was the art editor of Life magazine and wrote an influential article promoting Lichtenstein's work with the consciously provocative title of "Is He the Worst Artist in America?" published in January 1964.

The corresponding larger study for this work, a magna on paper painting, is held in the collection of the Seattle Art Museum.  Close comparison with the two source images for Vicki! I – I Thought I Heard Your Voice! (Study) reveals the remarkable significance of Lichtenstein's subtle yet critical editing process. Lichtenstein composited the two readymade frames from a comic strip, making a number of crucial adjustments to alter not only the composition, but also to transform fundamentally the character of his portrait and the emotional import of the image. Not only does the cartoon heroine convey angst as she furrows her eyebrows toward the male visitor at her door, but her pursed lips are frozen as if she is about to respond to the man’s exclamation, suspended forever in mid-thought and allowing the viewer to interpret the next frame. Intriguing and mysterious, she demands our attention and seduces our gaze, ultimately becoming the consummate muse of both artist and viewer.

Upon viewing this drawing we may think we have been seduced by Lichtenstein's Vicki, but in fact we have fallen in love with the honesty of the artist’s image. The astounding achievement of Lichtenstein's sublime drawing becomes the perfect alignment of form and function in the most elegantly influential way. While people fall in love with fictional characters every day, Vicki! I – I Thought I Heard Your Voice! (Study) invites us to fall in love with the act of artistic creation itself. A critical stand against falsified aesthetic pretense and subterfuge, this drawing is the ultimate incarnation of Marshall McLuhan's legendary and exactly contemporaneous maxim: "The Medium is the Message." Roy Lichtenstein presents here a breathtakingly beautiful subject by breathtakingly beautiful means, and delivers the ultimate expression of John Keats' observation that "What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth." (John Keats, Letter to Benjamin Bailey, 22 November 1817)

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

New York