Lot 32
  • 32

Richard Prince

350,000 - 450,000 GBP
422,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Richard Prince
  • Untitled (Cowboys 4)
  • signed, numbered 2/2 and dated 1987 on the reverse
  • ektacolour print
  • 218.5 by 119.3cm.; 86 by 47in.


Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York

Fredrik Roos Collection

Palm Collection, London

 Per Skarstedt Fine Art, New York

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Dusseldorf, Kunstverein; San Francisco, Museum of Modern Art; Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Richard Prince, 1992-93, p. 66, illustrated in colour

Hannover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Richard Prince: Photographien 1977 - 1993, 1994, p. 67, no. 26, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Untitled (Cowboys 4) forms part of Richard Prince’s iconic Cowboys series, in which the artist re-invents and challenges some of the most instantly recognisable figures of consumerist America’s advertisting boom: the legendary Marlboro Man. Re-presented through Prince’s frequently subversive and inquisitorial lens, Untitled (Cowboys 4) and its counterparts within the series imbues the source material – an all-pervading cigarette campaign - with multivalent layers of fresh meaning and interpretation. Rosetta Brooks notes of Prince’s photographic work that “by re-photographing commercial images that were clearly made-up fictions for selling products to the public, Prince, acting as a fine artist, makes originals that are more authentic than the originals. He takes control of an already controlling (deliberately manipulative) image in the process of re-photographing it…” (Rosetta Brooks, ‘A Prince of Light or Darkness’ in: Rosetta Brooks, Jeff Rian, Luc Sante, Eds., Richard Prince, London 2003, p. 38). The present work acts almost as a re-capitulation and summation of the entirety of the Cowboys series in its presentation of nine small images as opposed to a single large one, each featuring a Stetson-sporting Cowboy engaged in riding or working within the sweeping landscapes of the American West. The utopian vision of the American Dream is here examined and broken down into constituent parts to become fragments of an Arcadian whole.

The Cowboy is the quintessentially American symbol. At once representing freedom, lonesome independence and chivalry, this handsome and rugged ideal of masculinity embodies an utterly mythical construct: elevated from his original Hispanic roots and position as a lowly ranch-hand, the imagination of Hollywood and hyped-up masculine performances by Clint Eastwood and John Wayne transformed the Cowboy into a signifier for both male and female desire. Indeed, it was the Cowboy’s utter universality that made him the perfect vehicle for marketing Marlboro’s filtered cigarettes, not only to women but also to men. Nancy Spector has observed: “He is instantly recognisable in his requisite dress of denim, leather chaps, boots, spurs, and Stetson hat. Both a role model and sex symbol, the cowboy appeals to men and women alike.

His hyped, exaggerated masculinity has also made him a gay icon, a fact no doubt embraced by Philip Morris, whose desired demographic knows no bounds: a smoker is a smoker, regardless of gender, age, race, or sexual orientation” (Nancy Spector, 'Nowhere Man', Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Richard Prince, 2007, p. 34). Representing a host for incongruent and somewhat contradictory desires – an iconography contemporaneously stage-managed by ‘Cowboy-President’ Ronald Reagan’s government – Richard Prince’s appropriation of the ‘Marlboro Man’ scrutinises these multiple layers of signification.

Prince first identified his subject at a crucial time when Marlboro’s use of the Cowboy had already been abandoned. Throughout the 1980s food, drugs, alcohol and sex had become targets for polemical self-reproach following an increasing climate of antismoking campaigns and health scares: at the heart of the antismoking controversy was the ‘Marlboro Man’. Seeking to distance America’s ostensibly wholesome mythology from the increasingly negative connotations of smoking, Marlboro relinquished what is still considered by many today to be the most powerful advertising campaign in history. Re-photographed by Prince, the immensely potent image of the cowboy as a nostalgic, innocent and rugged projected cultural self-image is unveiled as profoundly inauthentic. Founded in the excesses and opulence of a decade devoted to materialism and illusion, Untitled (Cowboys 4) delivers a groundbreaking scrutiny of our culture’s increasing attraction to staged glossy spectacle over authentic lived experience, and epitomises Prince’s utterly ground-breaking appropriationist strategies.