Lot 137
  • 137


900,000 - 1,200,000 USD
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  • Roy Lichtenstein
  • Composition
  • porcelain enamel on metal
  • 24 by 77 1/2 in. 61 by 196.2 cm.
  • Executed in 1969, this work is unique.


Collection of Gunter Sachs, St. Mortiz (acquired directly from the artist in 1969)
Sotheby’s, London, The Gunter Sachs Collection Evening Sale, 22 May 2012, Lot 32
Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above sale)
Acquavella Galleries, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2015


Hamburg, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Gunter Sachs - Retrospektive: von Kunst, Kult und Charisma, August - September 2003, n.p., illustrated in color
Leipzig, Museum der Bildenden Künste, Gunter Sachs, 2007


Gunter Sachs, Mein Leben, Munich 2005, p. 385, illustrated in color
Exh. Cat., Weil am Rhein, Vitra Design Museum (and traveling), Pop Art Design, 2012, p. 254, illustrated in color


This work is in very good and sound condition overall. The colors are bright, fresh and clean. There is evidence of wear and handling to the edges including a surface abrasion and associated loss at the lower right corner. Under very close inspection, there are a few minor and unobtrusive pinpoint surface abrasions in the left half of the work.
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

Executed in 1969 at the apotheois of Roy Lichtenstein’s career, Composition is a quintessential evocation of the artist’s celebrated Pop vernacular combining the best from the Modern Paintings series. Just a few years prior, Lichtenstein moved from his much-celebrated imagery of the early 1960s, comic-style heroines and expressive brushstrokes, and began to make compositions that resist easy classification. Rendered in porcelain enamel on steel, the present work exemplifies Lichtenstein’s bold, punchy palette and Ben-Day dots ever present throughout his oeuvre. Gunter Sachs, German photographer, author and industrialist, specially commissioned this unique work from Lichtenstein for his infamous Pop Art apartment in St. Moritz. Composition stands as a seductively iconic amalgamation of Lichtenstein’s post-war American art and overflows with visual references to many of his most revered works. Few other works, either by Lichtenstein himself or his contemporaries, subvert the fundamental ideals of modern abstract painting so directly and successfully as embodied by the present work. In boldly challenging what constitutes ‘high’ art versus ‘low’ culture, and in questioning the distinction between fine art destined for museums as opposed to commercial advertising and media imagery that pervades our daily lives, Lichtenstein’s Modern Paintings continue to fuel one of the most contentious and theoretical dialogues in contemporary art today. Like the Landscape paintings that preceded them, the artist’s Modern works are among the relatively rare pieces in his oeuvre without an anchoring referring to a specific artist or object. While attempting to summon the style of the period, Lichtenstein’s foremost aims were, as always, form and composition allowing Composition to strike an extraordinary balance between verticals and diagonals, curves and straight edges, dynamic and static forms. This monumental porcelain enamel work was envisioned as a bespoke artwork to outfit Sachs’ bedroom suite where it was installed below his bathroom sink for decades and was paired with Lichtenstein’s Leda and the Swan, which surrounded the large soaking tub overlooking the breathtaking mountain views of the Swiss Alps. Lichtenstein developed the present work with the help of Sachs’ pointed artistic vision. In keeping with the cosmopolitan playboy’s true passion for living among great works of art and sharing them with the many friends and family who had the pleasure of visiting his penthouse in the Palace Hotel where this work was a focal-point of his home. Following the devastating 1967 fire at Badrutt’s Palace in St. Mortiz, Sachs generously offered to support his friends Andrea and Hansjürg Badrutt in financing the restoration and refurbishments of the tower in exchange for an extended lease of the expansive penthouse apartment. Genuinely avant-garde in his vision, Sachs set about creating an unprecedented new artistic milieu in which he would live and entertain for years. This notorious penthouse apartment signified a culmination of Sachs' passionate and extensive art collection. Composition and Leda and the Swan were commissioned as quintessential Pop Art accompaniments to Sachs’ Allen Jones furniture and Fahri Perspex wall panels and sculptures. As a bon vivant and close friend of contemporary artists among the likes of Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, his eclectic taste and perspicacity lent him the confidence to commission and create this celebrated Pop Art environment. 

In creating Composition, Lichtenstein drew inspiration from his previous works by combining aspects from his Modern Paintings and Art Deco series. Through his chosen material, Lichtenstein played down the idiosyncrasy of the artist’s hand in favor of uninflected surfaces that replicate the look of the machine-made further venerating the movement and melody within the present work’s unique horizontal composition. The radiant yellow sun rising to the left references the artist’s 1965 Sunrise series, also explored in enamel, and is again repeated to the right of the blue Moonscape style banner. The work is playfully interspersed with his signature black Ben-Day dots, which are meticulously executed, instilling the work with a kinetic dynamism that in turn invests a powerful sense of tension between the defined rays of rising sun and the curled wisps of green foliage. Diane Waldman explained, “I think Lichtenstein believed that simplicity was art. He believed very much in the rational and logical. To me there is something humorous in being that logical and rational about a work of art—using a diagonal that goes from one corner of the picture to another and using arcs that have their midpoint at the edge of the picture. All these are very logical things: dividing pictures into halves or thirds, or repeating images three times or five times. They used these formulas because they thought that if they did it would be art. Actually, it can be. There are two things here: the naïve quality of believing that logic would make art, and the possibility that it could” (Diane Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, New York 1993, p. 169).

Through his porcelain enamel on steel paintings, Lichtenstein harnessed the undercurrent of mass reproduction central to his earlier comic book works by utilizing their very modes of mechanical reproduction. By doing so, Lichtenstein revolutionized how we perceive the world around us and how, in turn, the world has subsequently been presented back unto itself. Rendering the present work on an enamel plate added a further layer of complexity to the readymade nature of Lichtenstein’s most recognizable images once again removing the artist’s own hand. Waldman explains, “With enamel, Lichtenstein accomplished two objectives: he reinforced the look of mechanical perfection that paint could only simulate but not duplicate and it provided the perfect opportunity to make an ephemeral form concrete” (Diane Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, New York 1971, p. 23). Composition is an incredibly rare, unique example both materially and stylistically as it is one of only three unique porcelain enamel works created by the artist- further heightening the importance of this fortuitous commission between two visionaries in their respective fields.