Lot 39
  • 39

Robert Rauschenberg

3,000,000 - 4,000,000 USD
2,602,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Robert Rauschenberg
  • Bantam
  • signed, dated 55 and titled on the reverse
  • combine painting: oil, paper, printed reproductions, cardboard, fabric and pencil on canvas

  • 11 5/8 x 14 5/8 in. 29.6 x 37.3 cm.


Mr. and Mrs. Marcel Boulois, Paris
Sonnabend Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owners from the above in April 1975


Washington, D.C., National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution; New York, The Museum of Modern Art; San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Robert Rauschenberg, October 1976 - January 1978, cat. no. 34, p. 81, illustrated in color (listed as dated 1954)


Matthew Baigell, Concise History of American Painting and Sculpture, New York, ca. 1984 (1st edition), p. 338
Exh. Cat., New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Rauschenberg Combines, 2005, pl. 10, p. 24, illustrated in color (listed as dated 1954)

Catalogue Note

Robert Rauschenberg's Combine Paintings epitomize the artist's visionary approach.  They are an investigation of sculpture and painting with a celebrated sense of theatricality.  Bantam, from 1955, one of the earliest paintings from this series, presents the viewer with an intimate and precious composition that is, nevertheless, overflowing with vitality and authenticity.  The Combine Paintings emerged as a radical new force in art history during the later half of the 1950s, a decade already acclaimed for the arrival of Abstract Expressionism and the New York school of Action Painting.  In the intervening years between the triumphs of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning in the early 1950s and the advent of Pop Art in the 1960s, Rauschenberg's hybrid invention of a sculptural form of painting, that was equally a painterly object of sculptural relief, embodied the impulse of the younger artists of the 1950s to strip away the recent past of New York Abstract Expressionism and to examine the nature of painting on their own terms.  Rauschenberg confronted the challenge to devise his own unique contribution to the preceding decades of innovation with the wholly individual Combine Paintings, such as Bantam.  In the manner of Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso before him, Rauschenberg integrated found objects into his work but he went further than either artist by exploiting the dimensionality of collage and its implicit character of message-laden imagery in his Combine Paintings.

Rauschenberg transitioned from his monochromatic Black and Red paintings into the Combine series by incorporating objects and found images into his Red painting.  At the time of Bantam's creation, Combine Paintings were still more painterly than sculptural, and the vaguely horizontal orientation of the fabric and printed image collage of this work is enlivened by the vertical and diagonal drips of paint. The flowered fabric in the upper register references home décor of the era and speaks of the artist's frequent evocation of his own sense of home – a common theme in his work.  The three main images in Bantam also represent different iconographic references for the artist who often incorporated photographs, postcards, newspaper and other printed material in his work. With his juxtapositions of collaged elements, Rauschenberg explored the tension between the 'real' and the 'recreated' as a reflection of the duality of 'life' and 'art'.  He translated this dichotomy into his art with the use of found objects in the service of painting, merging them into landscapes of pigment, photography and object.

On one level, the three photographs all relate to issues of sexual identity, a central focus of much of Rauschenberg's work.  The reproduction of the odalisque painting is a nod to art history with a subtle feminine sexual resonance.  Rauschenberg incorporated female nudes into many of his Combine Paintings, including one of his most important works, Odalisk, 1955/19158.  In Odalisk, the female nudes are juxtaposed with photographs of his mother, and references to the artist's home and family, including his own image, creating a fascinatingly feminine monument to his own identity.  Rauschenberg incorporated chickens or hens in his Combines and the theme of flight or the inability to fly was often explored in the works.  In Bantam there is no actual representation of a bird, however, the title itself is literally a small bird from any number of breeds.  The word can also be used to describe a person of a diminutive stature but potent force, often with a combative personality.

In the present work Rauschenberg also included an image of Judy Garland, the American actress and singer who was as famous for her talent and beauty as for her personal struggles. The image in Bantam is a youthful Judy in a glamourous studio portrait from her MGM days of the 1930s and 1940s. Bantam was created at a different time in her career, just a year after one of Garland's greatest performances in the 1954 musical A Star is Born. This film briefly revived her screen career but was her last Hollywood triumph before her career and personal life continued to deteriorate. Garland is often associated with the gay community as an icon for gay men, who have both admiration for her talent and sympathy for her struggles. This symbolic role is often cited in relation to her portrayal of Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, in which her character sought to escape her small town black-and-white life in a journey toward big city Technicolor dreams, immediately accepting those who were different from her along the way.

The two female images in Bantam are juxtaposed with the team photograph for the 1955 New York Yankees which runs the length of the lower portion of the collage. The 1950s Yankees won the World Series six times during the decade, and the stars of the team were celebrities in their time as well as ours.  These male superstars included Mickey Mantle (in the center of the painting), Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and Elston Howard (the first African-American to play for the Yankees, who joined the team in the year Rauschenberg created Bantam).  During this decade of Yankees glory the team was managed by Casey Stengel, pictured in the center of the bottom row, whose photograph graced the cover of Time Magazine in 1955.  Thus one of the most American of stereotypical male heroes - the professional athlete – is central to Rauschenberg's narrative theme of  identity and gender in Bantam.  As William Rubin noted in 1960, "Everything the eye delights in is eligible to enter into the autobiographical poem.  The iconography in Rauschenberg pictures seems to reach back through time and consciousness, memory by memory...they never relinquish their autobiographical intimacy." (William Rubin, "Young American Painters", Art International 4, no. 1, January 1960, p. 26)