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PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION

Roy Lichtenstein
CUBIST STILL LIFE
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1,800,0002,500,000
LOT SOLD. 2,110,000 GBP
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20

PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION

Roy Lichtenstein
CUBIST STILL LIFE
Estimate
Irrevocable Bids
Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Double Dagger
Indicates that the lot is being sold whilst subject to Temporary Importation, and that VAT is due at the reduced rate
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
1,800,0002,500,000
LOT SOLD. 2,110,000 GBP
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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Roy Lichtenstein
1923 - 1997
CUBIST STILL LIFE
signed and dated 74 on the reverse
oil, Magna and sand on canvas
76.5 by 91.8 cm. 30 1/8 by 36 1/8 in.
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report

Provenance

Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (LC# 688)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1974

Exhibited

Saint Louis, The Saint Louis Art Museum; Seattle, Seattle Art Museum; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Fort Worth, Fort Worth Art Museum, Roy Lichtenstein: 1970-1980, May 1981 - February 1983, p. 84, illustrated in colour

Liverpool, Tate Gallery Liverpool, Roy Lichtenstein, February - April 1993, p. 43, no. 23, illustrated in colour

Milan, Museo Triennale, Roy Lichtenstein: Meditations on Art, January - May 2010, p. 202, illustrated in colour

Jersey, Jersey Museum & Art Gallery, Hidden Treasures - Modern Masters, April - December 2011

Catalogue Note

Fusing a playful bright palette and a rigorous intellectual project, Cubist Still Life is a stunning articulation of Roy Lichtenstein’s brilliant command of line, colour and concept. Between 1972 and 1976, Lichtenstein composed a series of Still Life paintings in a plethora of art historical styles, ranging from nineteenth-century American still life, to Abstraction, Purism and Cubism. Extraordinarily rare, the present work is one of eleven Cubist Still Life paintings made between 1973 and 1975, and is one of only two from this group in which Lichtenstein used silver paint mixed with sand taken from the beach near his studio in Southampton, Long Island (the other such work - Cubist Still Life with Pipe (1974) - is held at The Broad in Los Angeles). Paying homage to the groundbreaking Cubist legacy of Pablo Picasso and in particular Juan Gris, the central pipe in the foreground of the present work, as well as the picture frame just behind, are pointedly redolent of Gris’ Synthetic Cubist works Water Bottle, Bottle and Fruit Dish (1915) and Guitar and Pipe (1913). Chosen by the present owner during a visit to the artist’s studio in 1974, Cubist Still Life was sought out by curator Jack Cowart – now Head of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation – for inclusion in the landmark exhibition Roy Lichtenstein 1970-1980 which travelled from The Saint Louis Art Museum to the Seattle Art Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and Fort Worth Art Museum. In a letter imploring the present owner to include the work in this show, Jack Cowart wrote: “the artist and I have been actively working for the last twelve months on the selection of those 50 paintings, 40 drawings, and 10 sculptures which will comprise the American tour. We are in agreement that your painting, Cubist Still Life, 1974, is the very best of its kind and is a work which we clearly need and fervently desire to represent Roy’s work of the period” (Jack Cowart, letter to the present owner, 23rd June 1980). Also included in Tate Liverpool’s Roy Lichtenstein exhibition in 1992 and Roy Lichtenstein: Meditations on Art at the Museo Triennale, Milan in 2010, this work is undoubtedly a standout example of the artist’s acclaimed Pop art take on the canon of Modernist art.

In an ingenious pre-emption of the work of Sherrie Levine, Louise Lawler and Laurie Simmons within the Pictures Generation, Lichtenstein began to sample and refigure art historical paradigms from as early as 1962 through his work Femme au Chapeau after Picasso. Almost two decades before these artists launched their projects of appropriation and recontextualisation, Lichtenstein made pioneering headway in these postmodern practices. In Cubist Still Life, the artist makes use of sand and imitation wood grain to incarnate the papier collé and collage of Synthetic Cubism: an aesthetic spearheaded by Juan Gris and Pablo Picasso and characterised by the conglomeration of multiple materials and textures in the same work. Rather than deconstructing the object in accordance with Analytical Cubism – producing a fragmented image capturing all possible ways of perceiving it – Gris specifically depicted colourful, recognisable objects through tactile and three-dimensional surfaces that bordered on sculpture. Extending these gestures, Picasso created a number of works that literalised the suggestions of Synthetic Cubist painting within wooden sculpture. Thus, Cubist Still Life is principally an exceptional eulogy to the works of Gris and Picasso: its incorporation of sand recalling Gris’ Violin and Engraving (1913), and its imitation wood grain a reference to Picasso’s sculptural works such as Still Life (1914) and Violin and Bottle on a Table (1915). 

There is also, however, a sustained conceptuality to the present work. The disjointed banana at the centre appears partly magnified by a glass lens and recalls the Mirrors of the early 1970s. Realised with invariant humour, the Mirrors announced a newfound interest in the mediations of contemporaneity; their reflections of Ben Day dots serving as a metaphor for the homogenising filter of postmodern retrospection. Lichtenstein was interested in how historic visual languages are recycled in contemporary life, and he embarked on the Still Lifes not to represent Cubist or Purist painting, but rather to represent their representations in decoration, marketing, film and pastiche. Moreover, Cubist Still Life is a beautiful thing in its own right. Indeed, Lichtenstein wanted his Still Lifes to be stunning additions to an interior space: the very kind of thing – ironically – that we might want to capture within a Still Life painting.

Hence, Lichtenstein’s Cubist Still Life works are, paradoxically, not Cubist at all; rather they are “cubistic and elegant. He intends them to be like a decorator’s cubism, with plays of pattern and color, Harlequin designs, and prismatic dislocations” (Jack Cowart cited in: Exh. Cat., St. Louis, The St. Louis Art Museum, Roy Lichtenstein: 1970 - 1980, 1981, p. 78). Given Lichtenstein’s eye for recognisability and wall-power, it stands to reason that Gris’ still life works – whose objects “[gave] the impression of having… an exact equivalent in the material world” – appealed to Lichtenstein more than any other (John Golding, Cubism: A History and An Analysis: 1907 - 1914, London 1959, p. 135). Cowart corroborates this view, suggesting that “if there are sources for this evolution, they are in the works of Léger and more especially Juan Gris…Gris’s inventive unpredictable subjects and highly finished decisive-looking renderings interest Lichtenstein” (Jack Cowart, op. cit., p. 82).

There is a palpable eroticism to the objects in Cubist Still Life. Exuding a luscious sheen not unlike the cherry in Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s sculpture Spoonbridge and Cherry (1985-88), the apple on the far right is pierced by the sharp edge of the central plane, and a pert, nipple-like lemon rests atop the patently phallic mirror imagery of the banana and pipe. In the present work Lichtenstein builds upon enduring art historical traditions that extend back to the Byzantine and Roman eras: the eroticism of fruit as borne out in Baroque and seventeenth-century Dutch schools, and the tradition of Vanitas and Nature morte which remind the viewer of life’s morbidity and ephemerality. By contrast, Lichtenstein’s glossy figures locate sex within a context of levity, modernity and commerciality. Richard Hamilton’s rhetorical question – ‘Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?’ – appears answered within the image-fetish and felt sexuality of Cubist Still Life.

Tom Wesselmann – Lichtenstein’s astute Pop art peer – blurred the dichotomy between the authentic and the copy in his Still Life works; installing uncanny versions of nineteenth-century century portraiture and de Stijl paintings onto the walls of his interior spaces. Likewise, Lichtenstein’s motif of the imitation woodgrain is a way of playing on the concept of authenticity with which woodgrain is associated. The symbol is a kind of paradox: the stamp of an authentic Pop art work that rejects, implicitly, the notion of authenticity. Indeed the imitation woodgrain was so significant an image that it was sometimes designated as the principal subject; for example in Painting with Blue and Yellow Wood Grain (1983). Serving as a perfect example of Lichtenstein’s project as well as boasting some of the rarest qualities possessed by any member of his oeuvre, Cubist Still Life performs both a tribute to and transformation of some of the most important landmarks in early twentieth-century art history.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London