Lot 8
  • 8

Roy Lichtenstein

5,000,000 - 7,000,000 USD
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  • Roy Lichtenstein
  • Female Figure
  • Signed rf Lichtenstein and dated '78 on the reverse
  • Oil and magna on canvas
  • 60 by 40 in.
  • 152.4 by 101.6 cm
  • Painted in 1978. Please note that in the print catalogue for this sale, this lot appears as number 8T.


Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (LC #812)

James Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles (acquired from the above)

Acquired from the above by A. Alfred Taubman in August 1978


Please contact the Contemporary Art Department at (212) 606-7254 for the condition report for this lot.
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

The seductive and beguiling Female Figure from 1978 is a testament to Roy Lichtenstein’s enduring engagement with the nature of art in the contemporary era, both as a major figure in the American Pop Art movement and as a painter who explored the art of the past in order to elevate the art of his times. In the 1960s, Lichtenstein garnered fame for his appropriations of comics, advertising and other forms of ‘low’ art, placing them into the ‘high’ art context of the gallery and museum. In these prototypical Pop Art masterpieces, Lichtenstein reproduced the language of graphic and commercial art with his use of bold outlines and vivid colors to depict form in a flattened picture plane. This unique style, utilized in the service of depicting commonplace figures and objects, was the beginning of his ultimate subject: art about art. Avant-garde and modernist movements earlier in the century had decried traditional genres such as nudes and still-lifes. Yet as the decades passed, the dialectic between the subjects of art and the techniques of art persisted and was nowhere more thoroughly explored than in Lichtenstein’s oeuvre. In a continuous aesthetic dialogue with the pre-war generation of European masters, he made use of past genres to produce innovative and radical contemporary art.

Picasso had engaged with the works of Rembrandt and Delacroix, while Warhol had reconfigured masterpieces by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci. Lichtenstein, for his part, systematically deconstructed and then reconstructed 20th century masterpieces, and between 1974 and 1980, devoted his attention to specific aesthetic movements as creative points of departure which in turn reinvigorated basic motifs of his visual lexicon. The dynamics of Futurism, with its sweeping movement and forms; the brushwork of German Expressionism with its intensely chromatic frontality; the intellectual polish of Surrealism with its dreamlike landscapes and figures; and the abstracted and disassembled forms of Cubism—all were translated by Lichtenstein into his own idiosyncratic vocabulary. As the artist commented: “I’d rather use the term 'dealing with' than 'parody.' I’m sure there are certain aspects of irony, but I get really involved in making the paintings when I’m working on them, and I think just to make parodies or to be ironic about something in the past is much too much of a joke for that to carry your work as a work of art” (Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, “Eight Statements,” Art in America, 64/4, July/August, p. 175). Indeed, the simple power of his graphic technique lends Lichtenstein’s modernist works a fresh vitality, as if, through him, their voices can be heard once more. 

The artist’s Female Figure from 1978 emerges from this important period of creativity and depicts one of Lichtenstein’s signature blondes, who has departed from the role of 1960s narrative heroine and entered into a Surrealist realm of fractured figuration and enigmatic context. Lichtenstein’s engagement with Surrealism seems a rather curious one: his work was rational and ordered, and the breaking down of form and the elasticity of meaning in Surrealism seemed anathema to the logic of Lichtenstein.  Even so, he reveled in the flowing, sinuous form and bold colors characteristic of Surrealism, but maintained an order and control through his strong sense of line, pattern and design. As is typical of Lichtenstein's best work, Female Figure is wonderfully graphic and boldly declarative, yet still evokes the power of the Surrealist dogma. Interior logic is dislocated through facial features and figuration that are random and disconnected, at once enlivening Lichtenstein’s signature motif: the female blonde.

The annals of art history overflow with famous images of Woman as Muse, and for over five decades, the weeping, dewy-eyed, frightened or sleeping women in Lichtenstein’s masterpieces have remained in our collective consciousness. It is fitting that the subject of his greatest investigations into the nature of art is the female symbol and that she would proliferate throughout his oeuvre. Female Figure is a tour-de-force as an archetype of Lichtenstein’s blonde American symbol of womanhood, ironically sourced from the regions of print commercialism and rendered into the exalted realm of fine art. In her many guises, from disembodied head animated by a transfixing central eye to a linear and featureless profile, the female of Female Figure is the primary agent of Lichtenstein’s explorations into artistic precedents.

The trajectory of Lichtenstein’s oeuvre demonstrates that his primary artistic concern throughout was the concept of art itself. In this regard, Female Figure references both his earlier 1960s paintings as well as paintings of previous generations.  His idea of making ‘art about art’ was not new when he painted Female Figure; however, the paintings of the late 1970s are more complex in technique and concept. Diane Waldman noted: “[Lichtenstein] showed a concern with style as a distinctive issue in painting quite apart from a work’s subject. In many ways this issue became even more charged when Lichtenstein introduced his first comic-strip and consumer-product paintings in 1961, pointedly emphasizing the difference between their genre subject and a high-art style.  In these and in the paintings that followed, he has continued to demonstrate an abiding interest in questions of art’s meaning, form, content, and style” (exhibition catalogue, New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum [and travelling], Roy Lichtenstein, 1993, p. 237).