Lot 11
  • 11

James Rosenquist

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
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  • James Rosenquist
  • Beach Call
  • signed, titled and dated 1979 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas on board
  • 61 by 76.5cm.; 24 by 30 1/8 in.


Peder Bonnier, New York 

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1980 


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate. Condition: This work is in very good condition. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultra violet light.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Beach Call from 1979 is a classic example of James Rosenquist’s punchy Pop style. A leading figure of American Pop art in the early 1960s, Rosenquist developed a distinctive voice within the burgeoning art movement that revolutionised twentieth-century art. The artist began his formative career as a painter of large advertisements and posters in Minnesota. Lured by the promises of the big city and the opportunity to study at the Art Students League, Rosenquist came to New York in 1955. However, his growing disillusionment with academic sensibilities led him to eschew a formal education and in 1957 he found himself once again painting billboards. Perched on his ladder, high above Times Square, Rosenquist was not only able to develop a uniquely bold and compelling style, but also to absorb the wafting fumes of capitalism in the commercial epicentre of the Western world. Absorbing influence from both abstraction and figurative Pop, the artist then launched his career in earnest and struck out towards a new, quintessentially American style of painting and expression.

This work is typical of that style. In intimate studied detail, it shows a shimmering seascape sunset, reflected in the roundel of a single coin as it is slotted into the distinctive concave groove of an American payphone. The magnified intensity of every element is mesmeric, creating an overwhelming sense of a specific moment within a wider narrative. This sense is exacerbated by a second painting called Beach Call – 5 Minutes Later, which shows an almost identical scene, different only in its duskier colour palette and the fact that the sun’s reflection dips lower towards the sea. This evocation of intrigue, of a story half-portrayed, is typical of Rosenquist who wanted to create: “a new kind of mysterious painting” (James Rosenquist quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Haunch of Venison, James Rosenquist, 2006, p. 108).

The artist’s synthesis of eclectic stylistic precedents is abundantly evident in this work. We might notice the influence of Roy Lichtenstein in the portrayal of a narrative fragment, and the graphic, almost cartoonish, style. Meanwhile, the bright colour field contained within the coin’s surface evokes Abstract Expressionist antecedents, betraying a debt to the artistry of Mark Rothko in its blocks of bold harmonious colour. Furthermore, Rosenquist’s training as a billboard painter – which in turn became his trademark as an artist – is evident in his graphic approximation of figurative details: the pad of the huge finger is perfectly illustrated in eight deft stripes, while the cusped curve of the cuticle is delineated in a single cursive stroke. This punchy mode of depiction gives the work that sense of instant impact that is surely derived from advertising images.

The work is filled with a sense of juxtaposition. In terms of colour, we can observe the hot glimmering sunset, executed in high-key ochres and umbers, presented in stark contrast with the thumb and finger, cool and diffuse in greys and mossy green. In terms of scale, that natural phenomenon which fills the whole sky with dusky light is confined and curtailed to a small central disc, while tiny fingertips and a single coin slot loom large across the rest of the composition. These contrasts fill the work with a gregarious sense of subversive fun, and charge the composition with seditious energy.

By 1979, James Rosenquist was at the peak of his career. He had just exhibited at the Venice Biennale and had recently been appointed a six-year term as a member of the National Council of the Arts. This sense of confidence floods the present work: in its creation of a fragmented mysterious narrative, in its synthesis of abstract, commercial, and Pop influences, and in its juxtapositions of colour and scale, it is in keeping with the best works of his practice.