Lichtenstein's Nudes

By Sotheby's
Sotheby's upcoming auction, Prints & Multiples on 26 March features a work by Roy Lichtenstein depicting two nude figures in his distinctive comic book style.

L ate in his career, at the age of 70, Roy Lichtenstein returned to the use of comic books as his main source of inspiration.

Rather than working from life, Lichtenstein chose his models from the pages of graphic novels. This ultimately resulted in his emblematic Nudes series, 1994, comprising nine different images. The Nudes series marked the artist’s first foray into the theme of the female nude, one of the primary subjects in the history of art. Nudes series would also be the starting point for what would come to be his last paintings, Late Nudes before the artist’s passing in 1997.

On 26 March, one print from Lichtenstein’s Nudes series will be offered as part of Sotheby's Prints & Multiples auction in London as lot 98, Two Nudes (Corlett 284), 1994. Here, the figures are taken from a 1963 comic book entitled ‘Girls’ Romances’. Lichtenstein’s compositions emerged from removing the outfits of the protagonists and adding references to his earlier works from series such as Mirrors, Waterlilies, Interiors and Imperfects.

Reproduced as comic strip heroines, the figures in Two Nudes are intentionally provocative, presented to the viewer as generic objects of desire, ‘Lolitas’. However, these images reveal more about the artist's visual language than the female form, expressing more through composition than subject matter. Speaking in an interview in 1994, Lichtenstein noted that he explored the subject of the nude because it was ‘a good excuse to contrast undulating and volumetric form with rigid geometry’. (Hulburt, ‘Lichtenstein Returns to Comic-Book Style’, Sun Sentinel, 1994)

By employing Benday dot patterns and stripes as modelling devices, Lichtenstein developed a fanciful Pop chiaroscuro that adds both depth and solidity, while supplying two-dimensional colour and texture. In an interview with David Sylvester, the artist explained, ‘It’s a little bit the way chiaroscuro isn’t just shadows but a way of combining the figure and the background, or whatever’s near it in a dark area... You’re not confined to the object pattern, but the subject matter excuse for this is that it’s a shadow. And that’s interesting to me.’ (Quoted in David Sylvester, Some Kind of Reality: Roy Lichtenstein, p. 38)

Two Nudes is an excellent example from the final years of Lichtenstein’s production, illustrating both a more perfected technical approach to the medium and a reinterpretation of his earlier works and subjects. As scholar Sheena Wagstaff puts it, ‘Lichtenstein’s Nudes series, created in the last four years of his life, are a profoundly innovative and active meditation upon the relationship of creation and perception.’ (Wagstaff, ‘Late Nudes,’ in Exh. Cat., Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago (and travelling), Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, 2012, p. 103-104)

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