Lot 3
  • 3

Richard Prince

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
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  • Richard Prince
  • Untitled (Cowboy)
  • signed, dated 2000 and numbered 1/2; signed and dated 2000 on the reverse
  • Ektacolor print
  • 48 by 76 3/4 in. 121.9 by 195 cm.
  • Executed in 2000, this work is number one of an edition of two plus one artist's proof.


Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2001


Basel, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Richard Prince: Photographs, December 2001 - February 2002, p. 93, illustrated in color (the present example)
Wolfsburg, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Richard Prince: Principal - Gemälde und Fotografien 1977-2001, April - July 2002 (the present example)


Rosetta Brooks, Jeff Rian and Luc Sante, Richard Prince, London, 2003, illustrated in color on the cover (edition no. unknown)
Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (and travelling), Richard Prince: Spiritual America, 2007, pp. 98-99, illustrated in color (another edition, 27 x 40 inches)


This photograph is in excellent condition. Very close inspection shows two extremely faint hairline 1" scratches to the surface, located at 3" up from the bottom matte and 33-34" and 31-32" in from the right edge of the matte. This work is framed in a wood frame stained white 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

Selected as the cover image of Phaidon’s 2003 Richard Prince monograph and the Guggenheim Museum banner for their 2007 Spiritual America exhibition, Untitled (Cowboy) undeniably belongs among the most romantic and cinematic works from Richard Prince's emblematic Cowboyseries. Executed in 2000, this monumentally scaled photograph is a superbly theatrical example of arguably the artist's most famous body of work. By re-appropriating images from Marlboro advertisements and presenting them unbranded, blown-up to the point of pixelation and refocused, Prince not only challenges the nature of photography and its authorship but more importantly deconstructs and interrogates romanticized images that shape American identity. Archetypal symbols of the all-American male, backlit cowboys are here gathered at dusk in a carefully composed image, and the gleaming sunset which ignites the mist-filled landscape lends a cinematic and quixotic quality to the scene. Mythologized, glamorized and proliferated by Hollywood films and advertising campaigns, the stereotype of ideal masculinity in the form of the strong and lonesome cowboy became a carefully marketed icon readily available for consumption in the American collective imagination.

Along with his contemporaries from the Pictures Generation of the 70s and 80s, Prince belonged to a disillusioned group of young American artists who rose to prominence at a time when their predecessors had already stripped the art-making process from its representational, durational and even material constraints. In belonging to an image-saturated, highly commercialized culture, Prince and his contemporaries directly took on the visual vernacular that characterized their generation. Faced with an abundance of pre-existing pictures, Prince “never thought of making anything new”; as he has stated, “I am very much against making anything new in a modernist approach.” (the artist in conversation with Noemi Smolik in Carl Haenlein, ed., Richard Prince, Photographs, 1977-1993, Hannover, 1994, p. 32) His relation to these image readymades vacillates between Warholian fascination with pop-culture and criticism of the myths they propagate. As outlined by Nancy Spector, “Prince’s appropriations of existing photographs are never merely copies of the already available. Instead, they extract a kind of photographic unconscious from the image, bringing to the fore suppressed truths about its meaning and its making.” (Nancy Spector, “Nowhere Man” in Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Richard Prince: Spiritual America, 2007, p. 26)

The cowboy is the quintessential American symbol. As a rugged, handsome and paradigmatic icon of masculinity, he is the ultimate example of an industry-fabricated cultural construct, mythologized and distanced from his true historical origin. At once synonymous with freedom, lonesome independence and chivalry, the cowboy was elevated from his original Hispanic roots as a lowly ranch-hand by the imagination of Hollywood and hyped-up masculine performances by Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. Herein, the cowboy was transformed 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.

Advertiser Leo Burnett’s idea of using cowboys in Marlboro ads was a way of promoting filtered cigarettes to a masculine audience at a time when they were almost exclusively smoked by women. To this day, even the simple silhouettes in Untitled (Cowboy) with their trademark Stetson and horses serve as an icon for the legendary character of the “Marlboro Man”. Furthermore, the large rectangular and horizontal format here enforces a cinematic reading, acknowledging the culture that pioneered the image of the cowboy as a powerful American icon and cemented its status as a timeless, glamorous legacy rooted in national pride and cultural identity. Yet, when Prince first appropriated Marlboro imagery in the 1980s, the cowboy was already an outmoded and passé commercial icon. Coming under fire in the 80s and 90s after a period of health awareness that lead to a virulent antismoking campaign (as well as a controversy following the smoking-related deaths of several former Marlboro Men) the brand acquired the macabre nickname, “cowboy killers”. 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 and scrutinized by Prince, the immensely potent image of the cowboy as a nostalgic, innocent and rugged projected cultural self-image is unveiled as inauthentic and yet remains extraordinarily powerful and utterly irresistible.