Lot 66
  • 66

Robert Rauschenberg

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Robert Rauschenberg
  • Untitled
  • signed and dated 1958 on the reverse
  • solvent transfer, watercolor, gouache, colored pencil and graphite on paper
  • 23 x 29 in. 58.5 x 73.8 cm.


Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Japan
Sotheby's, New York, November 8, 1989, Lot 36
PaineWebber Group Inc., New York (acquired from the above)
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Houston, Museum of Fine Arts; Detroit, The Detroit Institute of Art; Boston, The Museum of Fine Arts; Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institute of Arts; San Diego, San Diego Museum of Art; Miami, Miami Center for the Arts, Art Works: The Paine Webber Collection of Contemporary Masters, July 1995 - June 1997
New York, Museum of Modern Art; Riehen/Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Contemporary Voices: Works from The UBS Art Collection, February - April 2005 and November 2005 - February 2006
Beijing, National Art Museum of China, Moving Horizons - The UBS Art Collection: 1960s to the present day, September - November 2008


Branden W. Joseph, Random Order: Robert Rauschenberg and the Neo-Avant-Garde, Cambridge, 2003, p.176, illustrated (incorrect orientation) and p. 418, illustrated


This work is in excellent condition overall. The paper is hinged at four intervals across the top to a ragboard matte. The paper is Strathmore paper. There are two pin holes at top and a deckled edge as is typical for this type of paper. The work is framed in a giltwood frame under Plexiglas.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1958, Untitled stands as a magnificent and visually arresting example of Rauschenberg's wholly inimitable and diversely multi-faceted artistic vernacular. The moment that produced Untitled marks a watershed in Rauschenberg's illustrious career; masterfully skirting the peripheries between the gestural Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s and the mass-produced language of Pop that was shortly to follow, the present drawing foretells the paradigm shift announced by the use of silkscreen that would consume the artist's production from 1962.  "In 1958, Rauschenberg began a concentrated exploration of the transfer technique.  Taking printed source materials, mostly from popular magazines Rauschenberg transferred them to paper by applying a chemical solvent to the printed surfaces, placing them face down on the paper, and rubbing the backs with an empty ball point pen... Produced simultaneously with the later Combines, the transfer drawings brought the element of collage onto the two-dimensional plane; photographs, comic strips, and reproductions of artworks now became continuous with the picture surface." (Julia Blaut, 'Transfer Drawings, Prints and Silkscreened Paintings' in Exh. Cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective, 1997, p. 156).

Broadcasting the very essence of Rauschenberg's integration of the mass produced printed image into his expressionistic visual lexicon, this drawing is one of the earliest substantial works on paper to evidence the rudimentary 'transfer technique' deployed profusely during this period and beyond. Co-existent and analogous with the radical and highly acclaimed series of Combine Paintings, widely considered the zenith of Rauschenberg's early oeuvre, the present 'transfer drawing' evidences a poetic and tonal delicacy absent from the muscular physicality of his sculptural and painterly composites. The juxtaposition of barely-there photographic imagery in coalescence with a cacophony of gestural marks underpinned by muted tonalities – a tendency to restrict his color palette typical to Rauschenberg's more experimental works – unite to confer a pictorial lyricism to the disorganized visual stimuli that paraphrases the reality of sight itself.  Directly comparable to a drawing housed in the Whitney Museum of American Art and immediately presaging the large suite of drawings, Dante's Inferno started in 1958, now belonging to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Untitled unequivocally stands as a work of significance from a celebrated period of Rauschenberg's distinguished oeuvre.

Compositionally liberal and improvisational, punctuated with an erratic schema of colored pencil and gouache, the overlapping and fragmentary arrangement of photographic images delivers a diagrammatic pictorial relationship via the suggestion of human figural presence and the organizing structure of architectural monuments.  Indeed, although strongly gestural, Rauschenberg mediates a rhythmical wavering between expressive abandon and schematic order. Almost grid-like in the assembly of compositional elements, the hazy and shrouded appearance of photographic parts bestows a dreamlike and almost hallucinatory quality to the aesthetic encounter of images.  In this respect, the two-dimensional photographic transferal precipitates a thematic interconnectivity allowing a free-transition between images; as outlined by Rosalind Krauss, "rubbing, veiling and liquidity not only open vignettes of space within the surface of the pages but... serves as a matrix of slippage between one image and the next, which the spills and flows of watercolor and gouache merely heighten." (Rosalind Krauss, 'Perpetual Inventory' in Ibid., pp. 215-16).  An elaboration on Leo Steinberg's influential identification of Rauschenberg's innovation of the artwork as a 'flatbed receptor' (referring to the printing press surface), Krauss here underlines the inherent presence of an immediate and fluid aesthetic 'culture' in contrast to a distinct and separate pictorial realm. Famously, Rauschenberg spoke of working within the gap between art and life as a means to communicate the 'random order' of everyday visual stimulus. By 'veiling' the photographic, Rauschenberg at once combines the realm of the work with that of the viewer; individually segmented through the process of transfer and varyingly translucent, the diaphanous surface affords access to a recessive space as though imploring the spectator to wander through the artwork, traversing the threshold between reality and the imaginary.  Pursuing the accumulative agenda of his Combines via these visual juxtapositions, Rauschenberg delivers a "breathless jumble of open ended collaboration" whereby "bits and pieces of the world" form a "whirlwind of energy and inchoate reaction." (Sam Hunter, Robert Rauschenberg: Works, Writings and Interviews, Barcelona, 2006, p. 37). Marking the very beginning of a shift towards photographic transfer as the pictorial epicenter throughout the 1960s, Untitled bears witness to the germination of Rauschenberg's major transition to photographic silkscreen during that decade.